Though my mother is no longer with us, I have stashed in my file cabinet three calendars that loosely track her final three years.
The entries are sporadic and brief, reflecting on her status, noting a change in medication or chronicling one of those treasured moments of joy.
“Had a good morning – (she) actually laughed and smiled,” one entry reads. And another: “(She) started a little off kilter today.”
As my mother’s life crept into the muddle of dementia, my father served as her primary caregiver. Because I live close by, I served as backup support.
Over time, the disease drastically altered the dynamics of their marriage. I witnessed the ever-increasing demands on both and yearned for practical solutions to ease their lives.
In my attempt to identify patterns of cause and effect, I decided to track the highs and lows of my mother’s days in a calendar. Did her “down” days share some common denominator? Was there something I could do to help my father tolerate her afternoon business?
My spare time was short and so were my calendar entries. In fact, weeks passed when the empty squares on the pages suggest I’d abandoned the project entirely. But I hadn’t. Though hardly a scientific record, I continued to jot down occasional remarks.
Ultimately, my calendars proved less revealing than I’d hoped – at least when it came to cause and effect. Rather than unlock the vagaries of my mother’s behavior, my random observations seemed to confirm that the only “pattern” was a “lack of pattern.” Oh, so little do we know about the workings of our gray matter!
Yet, the scientist within me refused to concede. The calendars failed to make good on my original intent, but did they yield outcomes I hadn’t considered?
Now living in the aftermath of Alzheimer’s invasion into our family, I flip through the calendars for smatterings of memories I might otherwise have forgotten.
Two entries in July 2010 suddenly lasso my attention.
The first, a troubling eight words – “she left the house while dad was napping” – are followed two days later by an entry that bring a smile of remembrance, eight bittersweet words she directed to the very man she had so recently tried to “escape.”
On that second afternoon, she had taken my father by the hand, led him to their bedroom and urged him to sit down beside her on the edge of their bed.
Cradling his hand in hers, she turned her gaze shyly to look into the eyes of the man who had swept her off her feet 58 years earlier.
“I think I’m falling in love with you,” she said.
Linda Halstead-Acharya, a former reporter for the Billings Gazette in Billings, Montana, is now a freelance writer working on a book about her experience with Alzheimer's disease. Before losing her mother to advanced Alzheimer's disease in December 2011, she provided support for her father, her mother's prime caregiver.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room