Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sometimes Love Takes Precedence

Mom absolutely loves dogs.
I had some ideas for what to write about today, but none of them seemed worthy of my time. You see, my mother is coming home from the rehab hospital today. She had a stroke about a month ago and she hasn't been home since. She spent about a week in the hospital followed by three weeks or so in a rehab facility, relearning how to talk and walk and use her hand. Some of that has come along very nicely, other parts not so much.

What I can't get past, though I know I have no choice but to get used to it, is the fact that, even if her hand, which is lagging behind everything else in terms of coming back, gets better, Mom is 81 and has what appears to be pretty rapidly advancing Alzheimer's. So even if she gets completely well physically, her mind will continue to deteriorate until one day she'll not recognize her family. And there's not one thing I can do about it.

We all knew this was a possibility. Her sister died of the disease several years ago. So it was always a spectre that seemed to follow us around. Early in 2016, though, I started to realize that she was asking the same questions over and over and not remembering conversations we had just had. I wasn't sure if anyone else noticed, so I asked my dad. At first, he chalked it up to the fact that she's 81 and, to be fair, has always been pretty absentminded. I definitely inherited that. Just ask my students, who are constantly having to point out my glasses or my coffee cup when I can't find them. But then it got so pronounced that there was no denying it any longer; she was losing her short term memory. Well, there was denying it for her and she was none too happy if anyone mentioned it. Mom and Dad had a number of arguments, all borne, I'm certain, of Mom's fear that the spectre had finally arrived and wasn't going to leave until it was done with her. I can imagine I'd be the same way: deny it and it's not real.

Mom and Dad at a
family beach trip
from a couple
summers ago
Dad finally bit the bullet and kind of tricked Mom into letting the doctor do some tests. She didn't do so well, so the doctor put her on medication that, at best may slow the progression of the disease. We don't know if it's helping because we don't know how much worse she would be without it. It certainly hasn't made her any better.

Then the stroke happened. It was what's called an ischemic stroke, which means that a clot formed in her heart and moved up to block the blood flowing to her brain. The good news was that Dad was right there and got her to the hospital quickly and the clot-busting drug started working immediately. Her speech came back within a couple of hours and her leg is almost as strong as before. I was wondering, but didn't want to ask, if maybe there had been a partial blockage all along that could account for her memory issues. The neurologist said as much, so we all got our hopes up for a bit. But then the radiologist, an old friend of mine, told us that the MRI did indeed show the telltale plaques that denote Alzheimer's. There is still the possibility that a blockage had been exacerbating it and she's not as advanced as we thought, but the reality is that, at least as it stand at the moment, she has shown no improvement. The doctors say it still could happen, but we shouldn't assume it will.

And even if she's not as advanced as we thought, that just kicks the can a little farther down the road. The can is still there. So what do we do? We do what I constantly tell my students to do: live intentionally. Make memories. Treasure every minute we have with her so that there will be no what-ifs or I'm sorrys after we've lost her. That may mean bypassing some writing time, or at least rearranging so that I do it when she's asleep or busy at doctor's appointments or such. And it may mean not spending as much time with friends or at my kids' activities, or even deciding that the hours
Mom and my sister Barb on a different family trip
I often spend grading papers in the evenings is just not as important as being with my mom while I can be.

Why am I telling you this? Because deny it as much as we will, we're all terminal and we don't know how much longer we have. So treasure your loved ones. Hug them. Tell them you love them. Maybe decide that ball game or work you brought home isn't so important after all. It's overused, but only because it's true--you don't know when the last chance you had to say I love you to someone will really have been your last chance. Don't look back and realize you didn't take advantage of it.


  1. Keeping you and your family in my prayers. Love you all. *Pepper*

  2. I'm right there with you, Joe. My mother had a stroke 2 years ago. Physically she's fine, but we're seeing the signs of deteriorationmentally. My father, 81 with a 10 year old bypass, diabetes, and the need for a double knee replacement, is caring for my 86 year old step-mother in stage 6 dementia. I've pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. As far as the Actors Guild and musical communities are concerned, I've pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. I have two substitute teachers prepped for long absences that are going to be necessary in the not so distant future, but I don't know when that call is going to come. I use writing as a coping mechanism. I try to find the joy, humor or poignant moment in each visit. The journey with our aging loved ones is long, heartbreaking, and at times frustrating, but it's worth it.

  3. A thoughtful reminder to share the love while we can. Thoughts and prayers...