Linda’s Story

Here’s my mom a couple years before I was born………

Isn’t she beautiful? I hope every little girl remembers their mom as beautiful and something to aspire to, I know I did growing up. My mom was kind and pretty and always on my side. She was a Polyanna and as I grew older that trait bothered me, but her heart was pure and loving and you can’t really fault someone for being nice…..

In no particular order my mom was: a teacher, a stay-at home mom, an aspiring children’s book author, a docent for the Hollyhock House, a cub scout leader, a best friend to my best friend’s mother who died of colon cancer, an avid mystery reader, a classic film aficionado, a selfless caregiver, and a confidante extraordinaire. My mom was and is a special person in our extended family; I think the fact that so many people have stepped up to help care for her is a testament to her sweet disposition.

I’m not sure exactly when my mom’s memory problems began, for many years she cared for her own father who had  late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Sometime in my grandfather’s last years my mom began to repeat herself occasionally. Most of us wrote it off to the stress of caregiving and being around someone with severe memory problems. I lived in New York City at the time and wasn’t completely in the loop. However, as time passed it became clear that something was amiss; my Aunt Dianne has told me that one of the worst nights of her life was the evening she confided in my mother that she thought my mom might have Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Apparently my aunt lay awake all night thinking of my mother in the next room, most likely also laying awake, tormented by the idea that she might have this awful illness for which there is no cure.

In 2002 I moved back to Los Angeles and finally in 2003 it became clear that my mom’s memory problems were not normal and my dad took her to see doctors in Santa Barbara and at UCLA. After numerous tests  they concluded she had Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or what I like  to say is a diagnosis of, “We know something is wrong but we don’t know anything else.”  They told us it may or may not progress into Alzheimer’s Disease.

We coasted along for a few more years until the impending birth of my first child forced us to face some issues. My dad kept insisting that my mom was fine and that she could help babysit when my son was born. I knew that was not an option, that my mother’s problems were too severe to warrant caring for a newborn. After Alonzo was born, my father told me my mother was depressed because I wouldn’t let her take care of him. I felt awful. Now I was responsible for my mom’s depression on top of everything else? To me the decision was clear, if I had to make a choice about whether I should make my mom happy or potentially put my child in harms way by entrusting him to a caregiver who herself needed care, I sided with my child. There was no doubt in my mind.

Still, I harbored feelings of guilt about the situation and when my husband had to go back home for his grandmother’s funeral I decided Alonzo, who was almost one,  was old enough to stay with my mom alone for the day while I went to work. I came back at lunch and called constantly to check in and my mom did surprisingly well, though as soon as I returned home in the evening, she was ready to bolt out the door. I think the stress of trying to care for a little one while being confused was too much. That was the first and last time we tried it.

Fast forward to 2009 and my father finally capitulates and takes my mom back to a neurologist for more tests.  After a PET scan clearly shows that my mother’s brain has shrunk noticeably since her last scan in 2003 the doctor concludes that she has Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He prescribes several drugs but my mom doesn’t really tolerate any of them; since nothing can really do any good at this point she is drug free,  except for a heart medication.  Adding to our family’s stress, my mom ended up in the hospital last year with conjunctive heart failure and her mental condition has deteriorated rapidly ever since.

And so the selfless mother I knew as a child has turned into a moody dependent who must have someone with her at all times, to cook for her, bathe her, help her with the restroom, etc. etc. etc…… Still, every once in awhile a comment will pop out of her mouth that is dead-on to the conversation at hand and more astutely and concisely stated than anyone else’s comments. And for a split second the glimmer of my beautiful mother comes back to me and I imagine that she is Linda again, that we have no problems, that in the next moment we will be gabbing about our favorite Hitchcock movie and the latest mysteries we are reading, and most of all that she is okay.

Thank you for listening.


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