Alzheimer’s taught us that love and kindness can be communicated and understood without words. My mom, Helen, found a new purpose in life: making those around her in the memory care home happy every day. Every time someone sees her, she is happy, smiling, singing or giving hugs. People seek her out when they are having a bad day. A hug from my mom still makes others feel better. Yes, there is a purpose in a life with Alzheimer’s. My mom is still making a difference in people’s lives despite this ugly disease.
My mom is the mother of four accomplished children who love her deeply, 11 grandchildren who call her “Nanny,” and four great-grandchildren. She married George, the love of her life in 1952. She loved books and took the lead in successfully running a fundraising campaign when her town needed a new library. She was full of energy, and her bright smile was, and still is, wonderful to be around. When she was 78 years old and in the prime of her retirement, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We were fortunate to find an incredible life care facility and got my mom moved in early enough in her diagnosis to make it a comfortable transition. She immediately made new friends and captured the hearts of her caregivers.
Early on, facing the disease was challenging. She was concerned and anxious about her failing mental capabilities. There was little we could do to boost her confidence other than assuring her that she was in a kind, gentle, and understanding environment. Today, my mom doesn’t have the ability to communicate with us. She doesn’t remember her husband or her life in a wonderful small-town community that loved her. She doesn’t know her kids by name, and she is unable to read and continue to learn. As we stayed by her side and felt incredibly helpless, we started to notice the difference she made to those around her and how her happy attitude remained solid. And we started to learn compelling things about life and love.
We learned it is the simple things that matter. I find great solace in holding my mother’s hand, having her fall asleep in my arms, walking with her, listening to her intermittent words, and being thrilled when they occasionally make sense. She has few material things around her that matter. It is the love and care of others that makes the difference. Yes, I miss my mom who I could communicate with and share life’s adventures, and yes, Alzheimer’s disease is truly dreadful. Yet we have found it comforting to know that in the middle of all of it, our mom remains happy and able to bring joy to others. And our lives are better because of what we have learned in the process.