Today is my mother’s 85th birthday. It fills me not with happiness but with a profound sadness.
She doesn’t know it’s her birthday. She doesn’t even know she exists.
She has suffered from Alzheimer’s for 15 years, maybe more. The journey of how an intelligent, energetic, dominant woman has become an emaciated, pitiful figure in a hospital bed is a sorrowful one. Nor can I fully describe it even if I wanted to.
I can’t because I wasn’t there much. I’d been living overseas and so didn’t have to see the daily ravages upon my mother. It’s a disease that has been described as “the long goodbye”.
It seems that my siblings and I have been saying goodbye for a long time.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s. No medication to reverse it. The brain just slowly disappears.
Everything is unlearnt.
Forgetting her way home was a first indication. Many others followed, including paranoia, mood swings and being unaware of time.
The memory goes first, followed by the mental capacity. She clutched on tightly to the oldest memories but these too were soon whittled away, leaving only an empty shell. There followed the full deterioration of her physical capacities.
From a fiercely independent woman, she became totally dependent. She’s now taken care of 24 hours a day.
There are many stories like hers. Most of them hidden. Sad and untold.
Heart break and almost insurmountable difficulties are visited upon the affected families. These are stories of parental love and loss.
So today I’m not celebrating.
I’m just writing this to mark an unhappy birthday.