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running out of time


I've noticed that when I'm writing in this journal I have a faceless audience in mind. I am constantly censoring myself so as not to offend. This comes to mind because today I will be writing about my mother and it's going to be depressing. In person and through words, I feel as though I should be upbeat and witty because who wants to hear about depressing stuff? What do you say in return to that? Maybe there is nothing to say.

Alright, time to get into it. My mother is 79 and she has had Alzheimer's for about six or seven years now. I suppose it might be longer, but the symptoms started to become obvious when my oldest daughter was about 18 months old.

So I've had a good five years to actively watch her decline. I'm trying to tell myself this is a gift that I will look back on and cherish. In sort of a "Tuesdays with Morrie" kind of way. I know she's going to die, sooner than later, and I am attempting to live in the moment. This is easier said than done.

It seems so surreal. Like most people, I really never considered the fact that my parents would die some day. It was out there but not in a conscious kind of way. They have always struck me as so powerful and full of life.

Truly, it is only now that age seems to be catching up with them. They walk unassisted (without a cane), they have a fast stride and take walks around the high school track for exercise. While my dad's hair is actually all grey now (he is 80 after all) my mom barely has any grey hair. A little bit at the temples, but not really noticeable. Most people guess they are at least ten years younger.

They are both loud and animated. Before the Alzheimer's my mom was the life of the party, working the tables and talking to anything with a pulse. My oldest daughter is very much like that. Now, my mom is reluctant to leave the house, is always falling asleep in the easy chair and relies heavily on the person she is out with. It's like I have four children with me when we go out.

I have to make sure she can see me in the grocery store or at the restaurant. She'll try to "fake it" if she finds herself alone for a minute, but I can see the stress in her eyes. The worst part is that she knows her "mind is mush" -- that's what she'll say, "my mind is mush today, it used to be really good back when I needed it, but now..." she'll trail off. I don't know what to say when she says that to me.

Paula says I should agree with her and tell her that it must be difficult. I suppose this is the time I have to "step up" and be the anchor for her. That, in itself, is a bizarre feeling. We are definitely exchanging roles, my mother and I. And, though I have heard about this, I never ever expected to find myself immersed so deeply in this.

If I had ever been pressed to imagine my parent's deaths, I would have said their personalities and faculties would remain exactly as I remembered them growing up and one day they would drop dead of a heart attack. Based on my experience, I still feel that is a humane and just death. I never thought I would have to watch my mother be whittled down to a shadow of her former self.

Her personality used to roar like a brightly contained fire with logs snapping and fire popping and cracking. She was confident and self assured. She was going headstrong and if you were with her that was great, but if not she was still going it alone. Now it seems that fire has become a used candle, the wick burned down to its core with the flame flickering and threatening to extinguish every time the wind stirs.

In my family emotions are not shown and are not valued. I am the lone crier. It is a stigma and I might as well wear a scarlet C on my chest every time I am around any of them. This makes it extra difficult for me to cope. I feel I have to hold everything in and break down the next day after a visit. I don't think it would be helpful to my mom if I cried in front of her, but it's hard to keep it together.

I used to think I was above holding onto sentimental items in hopes of keeping a person alive. But I realized yesterday that's not true at all.

I have a Swatch watch from 1991. My mom bought it for me when she worked at Hudson's. Remember J.L. Hudson's? Today it is known as Macy's, but it will always be Hudson's to me. Anyway, the face of that watch has shades of aqua, pink and orange. The band was plastic and finally cracked last year. But, thanks to the internet, I was able to locate a cool, fish-shaped wristband giving new life to my watch.

Recently, however, I have noticed when I replace the battery the watch doesn't last for even a year. I did not make a note last time I replaced it, but I think it was about six months ago. Yesterday, the battery died. And I realized, as I watched my mom sitting in the booth at McDonald's, that my watch might not live forever.

It seems so trite to admit that, as long as I had my watch ticking on my left wrist, I felt I had my mom with me. Now it seems that time really is ticking down to nothing for her and my desperate attempt to hold onto her.

My husband says life is messy and the longer you live the messier it gets. I have to agree with that.


2006-12-23 at 11:21 a.m.

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