I had this admittedly crazy idea to fly up north and fly with my mother back down to my small Virginia town so that she could spend a couple of days with me, see my teenaged daughter whom she hasn’t seen since this summer when we went up to celebrate her 80th birthday, see my 21-year-old son whom she hasn’t seen in a few years, and do a small pre- Hanukkah latke thing. I made all the arrangements, steadied myself for the stress I knew would come fwith the visit. And then, my sister called and told me my mother had, just three days after the event, already forgotten she had been to her house for Thanksgiving.
“She seemed to know she had been somewhere,” my sister said, “but she wasn’t sure. I think maybe we had better rethink the plan of her coming down to see you.”
The plan which my sister up north had been all for, but my sister who lives a half hour away from me had thought was completely nuts.
“Mom’s way too out of it to make the trip,” she had said. “Not a good idea. Besides, it will drive you nuts.”
Yes, but. How else to get in what might be one last visit with my children before her memory goes completely? I could handle the stress. I knew it would be difficult and painful for me. But now, now I had to wonder: would it be too hard on Mom?
Not quite three years ago, my sisters and I all but tricked my mother into rehab to finally dry her out after more than thirty years of steady drinking, only to find that it wasn’t her drinking that was responsible for her memory problems at all. Or not solely. She had Alzheimer’s. And once Mom got the diagnosis she decided to start drinking again. Who could blame her?
Within three weeks we found her a great assisted living place with a memory unit attached, cleaned out, staged and sold her house, and her life as she had known it was over. Even though she’s on Aricept and has been advised by her doctors not to drink, the white wine that has been her best friend for so many years continues to provide her comfort as her world narrows even further.
And now, a few days after she spent the Thanksgiving holiday with her youngest daughter, son-in-law and grandson, she has no memory of it.
Does it make sense for me to take her out of her safe and familiar environment just to see her other two grandchildren for three days when she may well have no memory of that either? Who am I doing this for, anyway? What do I hope to accomplish?
She is more fragile than ever, even though she manages to keep her voice light and happy during our phone calls. We have the same conversations each time and I impart the same news about myself, my husband, my children, and even my sisters, whom she may just have spoken to. When I see her myself, she weeps when I arrive, and weeps when I leave. When I told her I was coming to get her and bring her down for a visit she sounded wary but excited, but who knows if she even remembers that conversation? Can I cancel with impunity? Can I just fly up for one of my solo visits? Is that enough?
Which decision will do the least harm? The most good?
I remember my great grandmother Birdie. We would be sitting next to each other on ocassion when she would visit her daughter Mollie, my grandma Buttry. She would look at me & ask “Who is this handsome young man next to me?” My reply, “I’m Earls oldest son Roger.” “I remember when Earl would ride a horse to my house.” She would turn away for a few minutes & we would repeat the conversation after she turned back to me. It’s terrible to watch.