Some days I come home and other people’s lives are swirling through my head. I love my work. I
hate despise detest my employer. I was driving into work this morning thinking just that. I was dreading today’s schedule. Three new patients, two returns, all potentially complex. First there was the woman who had become a born again Christian to heal her intense fear of possession after watching “The Exorcist”. It made me remember how I used to have to repeat “Jesus, cast thee out” to calm my own fear of being possessed in the years after “The Exorcist”. Then there was the woman seething with bitterness towards her husband, declaring that she doesn’t believe in divorce. What does that mean? That’s like saying, “I don’t believe in grocery stores”. “How about Santa?” I wanted to ask her. “Do you believe in him? The last patient of the day was someone I’ve seen for a couple of years. Her husband has Alzheimer’s.
English: Histopathogic image of senile plaques seen in the cerebral cortex in a patient with Alzheimer disease of presenile onset. Silver impregnation. The same case as shown in a file “Alzheimer_dementia_(1)_presenile_onset.jpg”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When my mother first died a few weeks ago (from Alzheimer’s) and I thought about returning to work, I thought about this patient. I was trying to figure out if I would be able to hold it together if I saw her. The appointment began fine. I was all smiles and professionalism. I noticed I was more distant that usual, as if I were watching her talk through a glass window. I heard everything she said, I offered a few observations. Then the door to the cellar inside me opened. I noticed her mouth was still moving but I wasn’t listening to her. I started crying.
Being the kind and compassionate soul that she is she immediately got off of her chair leaned toward me and hugged me. I told her my mom had passed since I’d seen her last. I apologized about ten times. I felt her genuine concern. Later I asked her what it would be like to tell her husband that it was OK to let go.
I’m sad that my Mom died alone. I want to blame my sister for this, because she didn’t tell me what was happening when I could have driven there to be with her. She’d called me a week before telling me it didn’t look good, then called the next day and said miraculously that my mom was up and seeming like herself. I had two opportunities to see my Mom prior to this before she died. I didn’t take them. I have lots of reasons. I don’t think they really matter. I think she would have liked to have seen me before she left.
There is a part of myself deep inside, very small that says, “You reap what you sow. The love you take is equal to the love you make”. My mother’s expressions of love were not initially easy to recognize. They did not come in physical affection or in words. My mom loved me, I have no doubts about that. She loved all of us. There was even a time, for a while that I felt like she loved me “best”. But for a good part of her life, it seemed like she didn’t understand how her actions affected other people. More specifically, she didn’t seem to understand how her actions affected her children. I do not know what made her the way she was, or if she was just born into the person she was meant to be. Looking back, it is hard sometimes to fathom why she did some of the things she did. In fact, my mother did me a great deal of harm.
It is odd, that lately, since her death, I have remembered more of who she was prior to the time that she did the greatest harm. And I have remembered more of who I was during that time. And I have recognized that I am still that same person. It’s almost as if my mother’s death released me back into my original self. And much of what I constructed around my original self was reactionary armor.
I told my patient today, the last one, that I think grief is a different experience when the person had Alzheimer’s. It’s a long slow departure. The more the disease progresses, the more you begin to realize that the initial signs started much earlier than you originally thought. My mother’s condition began a sharp decline about two years ago. Now, I think the first symptoms began as much as fourteen years before that.
My mother died at age 84. My son was born 10 years ago. The last time I experienced my Mom as herself was around that time. She was 74.
Last night I was thinking that I have about 20 years left on the odometer of my brain.