I was thinking about love, memory, and music during Valentine’s Day weekend.
First, this makes me think of my Mom who has had Alzheimer’s disease for probably about 10 years now and will be 95 in May. Every time I visit her, all she knows and says is how much she loves me, and we spend the time with hugs and kisses. When I leave, she doesn’t really know that I have been there. But when I suddenly show up again the next time, it’s a wonderful surprise for her that makes her day. This constantly amazes me how she still remembers me and knows that she loves me (and my wife), although sometimes she doesn’t know whether I’m her brother, husband, friend, or occasionally son.
She still has her same warm, pleasant, and loving personality much of the time. She’s always telling me how wonderful I am, thanking aides and saying that she loves them, and even EMS ambulance staff how they’re doing a “good job” when taking her to the emergency room when she recently was hospitalized for the flu. On good days, she still exhibits a wonderful sense of humor even laughing at her own inability to find words or complete a sentence. Another thing that strikes me is how she still comes out with typical phrases or sayings that I’ve heard her say over the years. She’s still the same Mom I’ve loved all my life.
Although this is very sad, it’s probably a blessing that she doesn’t remember that she hasn’t seen me for a few days or wondering when she will see me again. Everything is just “right now”.
She doesn’t even realize that the husband she married over 70 years ago has not been with her for almost 3 years now, and he died a year later in 2013. When he left after a fall in the bathroom for the hospital and nursing home and we realized he was never coming back, she was moved to another room with another woman about her age.
My Dad fell forward hitting his forehead on the vanity, and then backward onto a small table which fractured some ribs and vertebrae. He never recovered in spite of their rehab efforts, and his vascular dementia became significantly worse during his final year..
It’s really amazing that she doesn’t know he’s gone, and it was somewhat strange that we never told her about his death. However, we were advised that it might destabilize her and she would not remember anyway, but possibly know that something was wrong and be anxious about that, and maybe have to experience grief over and over. So it’s much better this way.
Music is wonderful for people with Alzheimer’s disease. They always have music playing in the assisted living memory care facility where my Mom lives. It’s enjoyable, familiar, and comforting for listening while they spend their days. It’s amazing how often residents will start humming or singing along to old hymns or songs from their younger years.
Somehow the music connects with emotions, feelings, and experiences from their life which they would not be able to recall cognitively. It seems to help take them back then and feels good. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that gradually destroys your brain, but there’s some way that music and love remain (for now anyway). At some point she won’t even know who I am, that she loves me, or I love her!
I’m Not Gonna Miss You
This also reminds me of the country music legend Glen Campbell, who has been struggling with Alzheimer’s. See my music post about his final song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, his “I’ll Be Me” film, and a CBS “Farewell Tour” video.
I can relate to that very honest song, when listening to the lyrics, which reflect his Alzheimer’s reality with a focus on his wife and family. My Mom won’t miss me either when she dies. Her world is limited to the current moment in time, and sometimes she is overwhelmed with emotion because she is so happy when she sees me. Although there is no past or future for her, she lights up, smiles, and sometimes cries when I visit. But when I leave, she doesn’t even realize that I was there a few minutes ago.
After writing this post, I also wrote a poem about her for a Writing 201: Poetry assignment on trust. Although she may not miss me, I definitely will miss her.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom & Dad. Thanks for your love and support all my life. I love you!