Susan McCormick is a doctor in Seattle and the author of a new children’s picture book about Alzheimer’s disease called Granny Can’t Remember Me. She will be doing a live reading at Third Place Books in Seward Park on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 3:00 p.m. You can also learn more by visiting her online at susanmccormickbooks.com. In this guest blog post, Susan shares her personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease and the inspiration behind her new book.
When my brother called from Hawaii with the bad news, we all knew the time had come. “Mom’s air conditioner is out and must be 100 degrees in here, but she thinks it’s working because the fan is blowing air. Worse, her refrigerator is broken and the food is spoiled but she doesn’t know.” He’s a pilot and was only in Hawaii for four hours. We all live on the mainland, nowhere near Mom. My Denver brother got repair men immediately, but Mom turned them away at the door, saying everything worked fine. Repairs were finally made only after much back and forth, cajoling my mom and begging the men to go back a second and even a third time.
Mom had come to Seattle a year earlier, and we hoped she’d stay, but she didn’t like our gray and gloom. She definitely didn’t want to live with us or in a retirement community. She wanted to be in her own apartment in Hawaii. So we tried to set things up as best we could, with food deliveries and a caregiver who came every other day. But Mom fired the caregivers over and over, or wouldn’t let them in. Sometimes she would be out walking when they came, so they wouldn’t see her for a few days at a time. Innumerable phone calls came to me from them and from her. The day of my brother’s visit, we made up our minds.
Mom had always taken care of my boys, coming for a month when each of them was born to help out after I went back to work. She came so we could go out of town, she came for school plays and preschool graduation. I told my mom we had a babysitting gap that summer. While it was true that our babysitter had gone off to college, my older son was now 13 and could easily take care of his 9-year-old brother. But I told my mom we needed her, and she agreed in a flash. We set her up in an independent living apartment in a retirement community and I brought her to our house every day to watch the boys. They did more watching her than the other way around.
That first summer, several times a day, Mom would say, “Why am I here? When can I go home? I want to buy a plane ticket so I can go back to Hawaii.” I would remind her that I had no babysitter and I needed her there to help me. “Oh, that’s right,” she’d say. “So when can I go home?”
I was hounded by worry and guilt. Am I doing the right thing? Was there any way to keep her in her apartment in Hawaii? Would she have been happier in a retirement community in Hawaii instead of Seattle? Was this my choice to make or did she get a say in things?
“When can I go home?” She kept asking, and each time my heart squeezed. We went on like this for weeks, then months, but she didn’t ask as often. She made friends in her building, enjoyed the activities and the outings, and came to watch the boys less and less. By fall, my mom couldn’t remember she lived in Hawaii.
Mom lived in Seattle three and a half years before she died. I could visit almost every day, and my boys saw her regularly, visits cherished by my mom. The boys knew all the ladies at Mom’s dinner table. They loved Friday Bingo and Root Beer Floats. Mom loved Bingo, too, and somehow managed to win up until the end, when she played with her eyes closed and her hands barely working. I am so thankful Mom came to Seattle and wish I had been clever enough to lure her here sooner.