My 87 year old mother, Daphne, is sobbing in my arms.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do! I’m useless! I can’t remember anything and I make you so frustrated!”
My heart tears as I try to reassure her.
“You’re not useless. Think of all the things you can do.”
It hasn’t been a good day. Daphne got lost in the shopping centre. When we got home, she couldn’t remember how to retrieve a message from MessageBank. I wrote the instructions on a piece of paper for her and, after a couple of tries, she managed to get the message.
“It’s for you,” she said, “Randall Someone rang”.
“Randall WHO?” I snap, still shaken over the fact that she’d been wandering, lost, through the shopping centre after forgetting where we’d arranged to meet after my optometrist’s appointment.
“I don’t know!” she sobs, “I CAN’T REMEMBER!”
So now I’m wracked with guilt that I’m a grumpy, impatient bitch and my beautiful, gentle, precious mother is distraught and it’s ALL MY FAULT.
This is Alzheimer’s disease – and, as Daph keeps reminding me, “It’s only going to get worse, dear.”
I sit her down and try to explain myself.
“I know I snap at you. And I know it sounds like I’m mad at you. But I’m not mad at you, I’m just worried … and scared. I didn’t know where you were in the shopping centre. I didn’t know if you’d gone looking for me out on the street. I didn’t know how I was going to find you.”
“But … I …. can’t … even …. use … MessageBank!” she sobs.
I go to my study and grab a pen and a piece of paper. I write out MessageBank’s number and our PIN and tape it to the wall over the phone. (Why hadn’t I done this before?)
“There! Now you don’t need to remember.”
I use my mobile to leave a new message, then I stand with her while she retrieves it.
“See, you can do it. You can do lots of things, and if you can’t remember, we’ll just write it down so you can!”
The sobbing eases, we hug and all is forgiven. But I still feel terrible. I have to learn to be more patient.
Alzheimer’s is insidious. It’s so easy to put those early lapses of memory down to old age. At first, when I raised an eyebrow at Mum’s forgetfulness, she’d stick out her tongue and say, “Don’t look at me like that. You’re always forgetting things.”