By Laureen Skirvan
“The long goodbye” is a term used when a loved one has Alzheimer’s. The goodbye begins when they start to fade away and lose their memory and ends when their body succumbs to the disease and they pass away. I am currently in the middle of this long goodbye with my mother, Rosalie. She was diagnosed last year with Alzheimer’s, but I knew something was wrong well before she was officially diagnosed.
My mother was known for her baking. She always had homemade cookies ready to share with anyone who entered her home. She was especially known for her Italian fig cookies, and would bake them throughout the year. A couple of years ago, she called me to ask if I would pick up ingredients to make the fig cookies for a gathering. I brought the ingredients over and left her to make the cookies. When I returned, she was throwing the entire batch in the garbage! I asked what was wrong, and she replied they didn’t taste right and was going to make them again. I decided to stay with her as she attempted the recipe a second time. I watched as she stood there, confused and unsure of how to prepare something she had been making since she was a little girl.
Loving someone with Alzheimer’s is emotional and there are milestones with the disease which make it difficult. For example, forgetting that a spouse has already died and not remembering they have children. The cherished memories that my entire foundation was built on, because of my mother, are now unfamiliar to her. That is sad. I visit my mother every Sunday afternoon in the memory care unit where she lives. We have lunch together and chat. Sometimes she knows who I am and sometimes she thinks I look like someone she once knew. I know we are to honor our parents; whether they remember who we are or not. We are taught to continue to care for our parents because it is the right thing to do. My mother is happy and feels safe where she is, but it is increasingly more difficult to leave her at the end of our visits, knowing that next time she may not remember me at all. It is a comfort, however, that I am creating new cherished memories for myself while spending time with her.
On Mother’s Day, I reflected on my mother and the legacy she has left me, my children, and grandchildren. We have photographs, recipes, and memories to remind us of her once she is gone.
Recently, Wren & Willow had the privilege of meeting the Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter to discuss the work they do. It was especially meaningful to me now that this disease has become such an important part of my life. For those of you also touched by this disease, please know you are not alone with your questions. In the video below, I express my own concerns in hopes of gaining information about Alzheimer’s. Hopefully, some of your questions will be answered as well.