Living and Dying with Alzheimer’s – A Daughter’s Perspective
By Carla Van Dyke
My mom Irene was the sweetest lady. Everybody loved her! She was a kind and loving Christian lady. Full of grace and integrity. She was meticulous in the way she dressed. Her hair was never out of place and lip stick and eye brow pencil was the only make up she wore. She was quiet and gentle and always knew the right thing to do and say.
She never talked much but when she did you sat up and listened. If something made her mad or something was not right, she would quietly let you know, and she was always right! Her laugh was like the singing of birds, so gentle and sweet.
She loved to dance and it was beautiful watching her. Her face would light up, her body twirled gracefully around; it was like she was dancing on air. All her life she looked after herself. She would go for long walks, eat right, was never over weight, and never over indulged in anything. She never smoked or drank, with the exception of a glass of wine now and then. She was in better shape than her kids at the age exception of a glass of wine now and then. She was in better shape than her kids at the age of 70.
She never swore or said a bad word to anyone. We didn’t dare swear in front of her either cause if we did, she would give us the what for. She was good to the core! She really was an angel here on earth!
Then coming into her eighties we started to notice some changes. She’d forget where she put things, forget things we said, and forget our birthdays, which she never did before. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and things went down hill very quickly. It seemed like over night.
In December of 2013 her and my step dad moved out of their own place into a senior’s lodge. Not because of her, but because of his health and his doctor’s recommendation. Just before Christmas she was complaining of abdominal pain and spent Christmas in the hospital due to a bowel obstruction. It was in the hospital that she did a complete 180 and she could no longer look after herself. I’m not sure if it was the pain meds they gave her but in a matter of two weeks she went from being in her own home to being fully dependent.
We put her on the list for Long Term Care but it took several weeks. While we waited, us kids provided her care 24/7. It was the most difficult thing any of us had ever done. It was like looking after a small child; it was extremely exhausting! But none of us would have done it any differently. She was there for us all our lives, unconditionally. It was our turn to look after her. Luckily there were eight of us and one of my sister’s wasn’t working so she was able to put her life on hold and do most of the care giving. Thank God for that!
Mom was placed in care in February, days after the death of her husband. She had lost so much in such a short time, her home, her husband and her mind. Her personality had completely changed. Her face looked different, and even her voice didn’t sound the same. She no longer held back anything and was swearing and cursing like she never had before. There were many times when she was angry and would lash out. She would get anxious and upset. She said mean things that would never have come out of her mouth before. Maybe she did know what was happening and was just so frustrated she couldn’t hold back. She was always so happy to see us when we would visit her.
As time passed she started to forget our names, but she never forgot that we were her children. We made sure that she had her hair done once a week because we knew that would make her happy. All her life she was always so mobile, she loved to walk; but now she was confined to a wheel All her life she was always so mobile, she loved to walk; but now she was confined to a wheel chair.
For three and a half years she was in a nursing home not able to walk, dance, or have a conversation that made sense. She needed to be lifted onto the toilet and have two care aids put her to bed. She couldn’t do anything for herself, although she was able to feed herself right up to the end. Other than getting up for meals, she slept most of the time. She lost all her grace and dignity.
My brother said once, “Why does a Christian lady have to go through hell to get to heaven?”
One day in October, 2016 after watching our beautiful sweet mother disappear for so long, we got a call from the Care Manager saying “I think your Mom is giving up.” We all rushed to her side. She would not take any food or water. The nurses wanted to feed her and give her IV but we wouldn’t allow it; our only request was pain meds to keep her comfortable. Her wish was to have no interventions when it was her time.
It was unbelievable that first day. She was more wide awake and aware than we had seen her since going to the home. In fact she never slept that whole day until at 3 o’clock in the morning she finally fell asleep. It was like she knew her time had come and she wanted to spend every minute she could with us.
After so many years of seeing her angry and upset, we finally saw peace in her eyes.
In those waking hours and till the moment she died, we did everything we could to make her last days happy. Eight of her children and many grandchildren sat by her side day and night for twelve days, constantly singing, praying, talking, laughing, reminiscing, crying and comforting her. We slept in makeshift beds beside her.
I’ve heard it said that humans can only go three days without water, well our mom blew that theory all to hell, she went twelve!! We watched as her body became nothing but a skeleton and her beautiful face became sunken and hollow. It was hard!!! It was very hard!!! But we let it be Gods will, we let it be her will, and we rejoiced as in the very early morning on November 8th, the twelfth day, she slipped away quietly on her own terms, with us by her side. No machines, no whirring, just peace and love. If we had allowed intervention it could have been weeks! Why would we put her through that or us for that matter? We loved our mom very much, but we let nature take its course, and let her and God decide when the time would be and we are at peace with that!
I have not set foot in that place since, nor do I want to. I do have to say that the care givers there were wonderful, loving, caring people. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to them. They took great care of our mom when we couldn’t. I don’t know how they do it, looking after Alzheimer’s patient’s their whole career. They are very special people.
A year has passed and I am finally ready. Ready to write a tribute to the most amazing women that I have ever met. She was the epitome of all that’s good. She was the most beautiful, loving, wise, kind person, mother and friend. Although we miss her every day, it brings us peace and comfort to know that she is once again smiling, dancing, and wearing the wings she earned and so deserves!
Loads of love to you Mom, LOADS of LOVE!!
Your loving daughter, Carla xoxo