Eight years ago today, a woman passed away quietly in the early morning. A resident of St. Petersburg, Florida for 22 years, she was 69 years old at the time of her death. She was survived by her husband, two adult daughters, and one teenage grandson.
But Mary Ann’s family had lost her well before her death. For over seven years, she had been living in a nursing home, incapacitated by early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her family had begun to see changes in her health, demeanor, and personality when she was in her late 50’s – sudden weight loss, strange sleeping habits, difficulty in speaking, disengagement with her family and surroundings, paranoia and hallucinations – but her long-standing fear of doctors and medications caused her to resist their efforts to get her to seek help. Her daughters had both moved away, and distance and the demands of their own lives limited what they could do about this, and her husband’s passive nature kept him from forcing the issue. By the time she reached the point where something had to be done, there wasn’t a realistic alternative to round-the-clock care for her, and the next several years were spent in a form of limbo by the entire family. By the time she died, much of the family’s grieving had already been done; Alzheimer’s doesn’t take the body quickly, but it does take the intangibles that make a person unique and special.
We’ve missed Mom for a very long time now. My sister and I had long suspected she was the one who kept Dad’s head on straight, and that was certainly confirmed during the several years preceding and immediately after her death, when he ran off the rails a number of times. While none of us are in Florida any more, we’re no longer a long-distance family, and things have calmed down significantly. We tend to view everything we do for Dad as something we’re really doing for Mom, though (and I have to be honest – my sister does quite a bit more than I do, and I tend to view my contributions more as helping her). We miss having her there to listen to and support us. We miss being able to make her happy.
We also miss her because she’s missed so much of our lives. I’m glad that before she got sick, she did get to spend a lot of time with my young son – but she doesn’t know that he’s turned out pretty well, and he’s out of college now. She was there for the beginning of my first marriage, but I’m actually not sorry she missed all the drama and trauma of the ending, although I wish she were able to know my second husband – I know he’d be able to make her laugh a lot. My sister has married and become mother to two wonderful boys in the last ten years, and it’s been hard for her that Mom hasn’t been there to share in that.
We miss her, but she’s still in our hearts, and every year we do something pertinent to remember. Along with our families, my sister and I participate in our local Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk every autumn. Our team is walking on November 4th to help raise money to fight a disease that took someone we can’t ever forget.