Conor Dougherty’s post on Medium about his mother’s Alzheimer’s and his and his family’s experience is honest and raw:
Last week, while my dad and I sat with her on a park bench, she started complaining that she hadn’t done anything all day, even though she’d spent the morning at the beach. My dad reminded her that she’d been out with Patricia (Patricia is a caretaker), and pointed to the sand and white dust on her shoes. Mom didn’t believe him. She said she wanted to call Patricia. Dad called her. That led to an exchange that went something like Hi Patricia, this is Kathy. Were we out today? OK. Patricia? Is this Patricia?
There ensued claims of a conspiracy, pleas to go home and a fit of tears that prompted a nearby babysitter to shoo a group of kids toward the other side of the park. In between sobs, my mom kept saying something is really wrong. Something is really wrong and I need to talk to my parents. Her parents have been dead for decades.
I learned before I was 10 that my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was lucky to live in an inter-generational home, and I had grown up with my grandfather as much as anyone. I have my own little vignettes, that as a young kid you can more easily compartmentalize probably because you’re not the one who has to spend 100% of the time with the suffering person, or put him to bed, etc. He was himself for a long time. You always wish you had more time. Gram was a saint. She took care of him in-home until even past when it really became impossible.
Losing my mind to Alzheimer’s ranks as probably my number one fear. I can’t imagine facing that diagnosis. I shutter also because I know the toll it takes on a family. Christianity embraces suffering as part of life. But we also live in a time when medical technology can extend a body far beyond the sorts of limits that would have been possible for most of human history.
I wonder about whether room can ever be made to accomodate a wider range of options for a diagnosis as bleak as Alzheimer’s is at this point.