Monday, February 23, 2015

The Beginning

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Mom and Grandson

The Beginning of Alzheimer’s Disease

My mother was in her late 70’s when her second husband passed away. The time and photo of her, with my son, was 10 years before her diagnosis.
Her first marriage had not been a happy one but this second mating was perfect.  Mom enjoyed a full and happy life for 15 years with her second husband,  a kind and caring man. They traveled the East Coast, sights that were new and unique for my Mom; a west coast lady for all of her life after leaving Oklahoma as little more than a teen.
I hadn’t spent nearly as much time with her during the last few years of her life. My young children were growing up and becoming young adults, monopolizing most of my time. And Mom was  busy with her own life– a new husband and happier than she’d ever been.
Mom was fortunate to have good health, a happy smile and youthful attitude well into her seventies. I only hoped I was lucky enough to inherit her good genes. Then, unexpectedly, her husband was gone– an infection after major surgery. And Mom was alone again.
She owned her own home, had a nice car, was in good health (never a drinker or smoker), and was as active as she’d ever been. I knew she’d be fine, only needing to brush-up on her rusty driving skills. All driving had been deferred to her new hubby for the past 15 years so Mom was skittish behind the wheel.
Driving for Mom was limited to a weekly trip to her favorite hair-dresser and quick “run-backs” to Safeway at the same shopping center, only a block away.
To break the monotony of her loneliness I invited Mom for an occasional weekend at our place. I’ll never forget a particular visit that left me puzzled about Mom’s behavior.
Mom loved shopping so on the second day of her visit, we woke early and spent a full day of shopping and lunch at the mall.
After lunch,  Mom appeared to be a little TIRED and confused so we headed back to the car. As she stood near the passenger door, she inhaled deeply, held out her arms and said, “Take a deep breath. Isn’t this great. It’s funny how much better the air smells in Texas.”
I frowned. We lived in Arizona, we’d lived in Arizona for 35 years. The air could take your breath away in the summer alright, it was Hot and Dry and if you breathed too deeply you’d probably scorch your lungs.
“Right,” I agreed facetiously, “You can fry an egg on the sidewalk this time of year, Mom.”
Mom frowned, and asked, “You can? In Texas too? You can fry an egg on the sidewalk in Texas?”
Now, I was confused. I stashed our packages in the trunk and got Mom into the car.Something was wrong,  I was certain of it. After getting her seated, I hurried to the driver’s side. I couldn’t imagine what might have happened but Mom was clearly confused. The thought of a STROKE entered my mind.
“Mom…” I finally turned to her, “This is Arizona.”
She didn’t face me, but leaned back in the seat and a puzzled expression wrinkled her brow. “This is Arizona?
Her eyes were confused when she turned toward me, searching my face for the sign of a grin. She thought I was teasing her. “We’re in Arizona?” She repeated the question as she looked out the window, clearly searching for something to help get her bearings.
I nodded. “Mom, do you have a headache, or anything?” I started the car while I watched her cautiously. “Yes, this is Arizona. We’ve lived here for 35 years. What made you think it was Texas?
She rubbed her forehead and I could see the struggle as she accepted my words and brought her mind back to Arizona.
“My goodness,” she finally said. “I could have sworn we were in Texas.” She pointed out the window. “I think this mall is built exactly like the mall we use to visit in Texas. It confused me for a moment.” Then she laughed aloud.
I couldn’t help but laugh, too, once I knew that Mom was all right. “Nope, Mom, you’re in Arizona. We haven’t been in Texas in 35 years.”
That moment was a missed warning.  But later it became a humorous story that Mom and I told often, laughing harder at the silliness of it with every telling. It would be years before I looked back and realized that day at the mall had been an ominous “sign,” a “symptom” of what was yet to come– Alzheimer’s.

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