My poor Mom has Alzheimer’s. I have not been home in over a year due to Covid and growing distance from my aging parents. At the end of February, during my weekly weekend calls home, I could tell that Mom was getting both increasingly confused and delusional. She mixed up her sons’ names; she confused her husband with her father.
Brother Rob, living at home with my parents, sent a sad and shocking email to all the sons that Mom got admitted to the emergency room when her delusions turned psychotic. Something psychological snapped in her, hopefully temporarily. Nonetheless, I never knew to whom I spoke on my weekend calls: once Mom seemed fine, discussing sports, the weather, and the family; most times, she drifted, wanting frantically to leave, fearing she was paying too much, assessing her mortality.
A trained neurologist, friend Stephanie counseled that Mom likely had Alzheimer’s. She walked me through the prognosis. Sadly, such a situation is not rare with the elderly. 1% of 60 year olds suffer dementia, with that rate increasing 1% each year older. Cancer and cardiovascular disease kills 60 and 70 year-olds; dementia plagues 80 and 90 year-olds.
I reach out to my network, interviewing friends whose parents suffer or suffered dementia. Jay recommended reading a self-help book, “When Roles Reverse,” about parenting your parents. I despair, but now I am more informed.
Our family dynamic exacerbates Mom’s mental decline. My father (88) neither can hear on the telephone nor has an email account anymore. Although I write letters to him monthly, he does not respond, so I know neither his wishes nor his health. Fortunately, my older brother Rob (52) trained as a gerontological nurse has lived for over a decade with my parents without a job other than their care. Still, he doesn’t write or call. I’m left then with a single, unreliable narrator of my Mom for information from back east. I don’t know how the family fares, nervously rolling the dice each weekend on that 10am phone call.
I want to do right by my Mom, but I’m not sure what right means. Post-vaccination, I plan to go east mid-April for a week to assess and help. With Mom out of action, Rob has to do all the driving and cooking, neither of which he enjoys. Should I stay at a hotel? I do not know what to expect. I feel guilty. Both my brothers have little to say about our parents’ situation.
My Mom’s illness brings up a lot of difficult emotions. I’ve been increasingly distant anyways from my parents over the course of a decade. They never visited California nor care much either about my work or my friends. Their lives and our relationship stopped a long time ago.
I fear for my own mortality. I may have a neurodegenerative muscle disease, the subject of another post. My cousin has Parkinson’s. I’m close to 50. I’m not only not young, but also soon to be old. I realize the importance of relationships, especially friendships, harder to maintain in a pandemic. A difficult year looms ahead.