My Mother, Tennessee Williams, & Alzheimer’s Disease

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My mother is a character from a Tennessee Williams play…but without a Southern accent. I am her second child, born when she was 16 years old. Her childhood cut short and never spoken of in a way that imparted a sense of safety or innocence.

Each man she ran away with was hoped to be the rescue from the last. She gave up every child she bore, to some degree. And in each tragedy she was the faultless victim, bearing the bruises without bearing the blame.

She’s also hilarious. No matter how many times she told a joke, she could make it look like she just thought of it. As a bartender or waitress she told countless anecdotes with ease and entertained like she was under a spotlight rather than serving up the daily special. She’d spontaneously break into song and dance. “I’m not a ham,” she’d say, “A ham can be cured.”

I believe my mother’s highest ambition has always been to be liked.

Hers has been a life of passing laughter and passing friends.

 

Last month a doctor confirmed her Alzhiemer’s diagnosis, although it’s been obvious for years now. (My mother’s current husband is a good man but of the can’t-change-it-so-why-go-to-the-doctor generation.)

My mom took a short written quiz, answered a few questions, and told a anecdote or two. Except now the jokes repeated too close together. She’s forgotten that she already told us that one. The doctor said Alzheimers and my mom said, “What?”

“Alzheimers, Mom.”

“Oh, I have Old-Timer’s Disease?!”

“Yup, Mom, you’re officially an Old-Timer.”

“Oh.” She paused.  This is never good news, no matter how long you can remember. “Well, at least I still have my sense of humor.”

“That you do.” I answered.

“I’d rather you lose your memory,” the doctor said, “Then your sense of humor.”

“Well, at least I still have my sense of humor.”

 * * *

A few days earlier, my mom was quite upset because I was arranging for her to stay in a nursing home for a short time while her husband recovered from a particularly rough time with pneumonia.  They would be separated and she relies heavily upon him. She relies upon his presence. But he wasn’t well himself, he needed to be cared for and also care for himself.

She was scared. She was sad.

“Is this my fault?” she asked.

 

“No, mom. It’s nobody’s fault.”

Which was a lie.

My mom turned 60 this year.

 

She is 60 years old. She has been smoking and drinking, excessively, for over 40 years. She has survived throat cancer. And barely survived the chemotherapy and radiation to cure it.

Does she know now? Does she finally know now that her decisions, her mistakes, her choices have led her to this place?

No. She cannot. She could not ever face that reality before and she will not face it now. Instead she talks of a past that is sprinkled with fiction. She repeatedly asks about tomorrow or what is next because she has lost control of time.

Today this quote has come across my path in three different ways: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  – Maya Angelou

My mother has always done her best.

 

That I do believe. However, she never did better because instead of facing the pain, she drown it, and in doing so she could never take on the lesson. She couldn’t learn to be better. To have better.

At 60 years old, she should still have the chance to do better. But that chance has passed. Choices made and no use now placing blame.

When my mother got cancer, I told her that cancer is a car wreck, it can hit anyone. But what I wrote here via short prose was “Cancer is a Fucking Car Wreck.

If we move to the facts of the matter, her father had Alzheimer’s and he died only 2 years ago. Her lifestyle, compounded by cancer’s cure, certainly flipped whatever genetic switch there is to be had on this issue.

For reasons not yet known, the fact I gave birth to a child with Down syndrome when I was only 19 is a sign that I am prone to developing Alzheimer’s as well and my son’s triplicate 21st chromosome means that he has a 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s before he is 50 years old.

And that, my friends, is why I just told you a bit about my mother.  Because we are now on a journey to beat the odds. To break this cycle and hold onto, well, ourselves.  So stick around, the focus over the next few weeks is going to be about research, learning, hope and change. Yup. Change.

Feel free to use the comments to tell us about your experience with Alzheimer’s, as well as your questions so that I can be sure to get the details you’re looking for, too.

This song “Breathe Me” resonates with me as my mother’s experience.
It is written by Sia and performed here by Sarah Brightman:

 

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2013-11-20T09:31:56+00:00Categories: Grown Ups & Downs|Tags: , |8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Jisun November 20, 2013 at 11:53 am - Reply

    My FIL has early onset Alzheimer’s. Giving birth to my son at 31 makes me contemplate genetics and health a lot. All I can come up with is that we all leave this life having given everything back, including our minds. Whether we have souls or where they go, I’m less sure of the details, but I sure as heck know that wherever I might go, I’m not taking my human cognition with me. And I’m OK with that. It was all on borrowed time anyways.

    • Mardra November 21, 2013 at 9:18 am - Reply

      Perhaps my uncertainty about what happens in the big NEXT is part of what makes me cling so to holding on to all of my human cognition now.
      And I love Marcus so much, I feel like…well, you know.

  2. Jenny Buchanan November 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    Hi, Mardra! Jenny “Eakins” Buchanan here. Although your mother’s life experience and mine were much different, I needed to tell you that our stories are much the same. Not only did you and I go to school together, but I have a son with DS (which I think you knew), though late in life (he’s 5.) And at 60, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She died a little over a month ago, at the age of 70. It was a decade of ups and downs, much harder for her husband than for us, who were farther removed. But she also still had her sense of humor. This summer, she often told silly stories in complete gibberish, but with correct inflection, and would laugh and laugh… 🙂 Please friend me on FB, or contact me anytime if you want to vent or talk! Love and best regards to you and yours–

    Jen

    • Mardra November 21, 2013 at 9:15 am - Reply

      Jenny, I have seen you peripherally for bit now and am so glad you have stopped by. I have seen a picture of your beautiful family and will count this as an invitation to connect.

      I’m sorry to hear about your mother, please stay tuned because I am going to share more about this subject for the sake of our own health as well as our children’s.

      And, is anyone surprised that Tennessee Williams brought us back in touch 🙂

  3. Kelly November 20, 2013 at 11:52 pm - Reply

    Bare. Brilliant. Intense.
    I’d say more, but there’s something wrong with my eyes….

  4. Quinn November 21, 2013 at 3:29 am - Reply

    “Changes”

    I still don’t know what I was waiting for
    And my time was running wild
    A million dead-end streets
    Every time I thought I’d got it made
    It seemed the taste
    was not so sweet
    So I turned myself to face me
    But I’ve never caught a glimpse
    Of how the others must see the faker
    I’m much too fast to take that test

    by David Bowie

    This song lyric seemed apropos, too.

    • Mardra November 21, 2013 at 9:09 am - Reply

      It wouldn’t be “Life with the Sikora’s” if there weren’t ch -ch – changes!

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