Dementia, a Mother, and an Adopted Child

**Edit: my mother passed away 26 hours after I posted this.**

About five months ago, my mother was mentally bad and had wandered and broken her arm. Three and a half months ago I brought her home from the hospital. For years before this, from about six months after my dad died, I had struggled and fought for her and tried to care for her but she didn’t want to let me. I heard, “I am FINE,” at least 72,000,000 times. We had all made jokes about her condition – jokes about “NaNa” – jokes about how bad she was getting, “but there was nothing we could do…” Yet, I still fought…and I know those battles, and they’re why I’m here tonight.

I wish we hadn’t done that…made jokes, because it’s not funny. But I’m glad I never stopped fighting, even if we never had the mother/daughter relationship I always wished we’d had and even if I didn’t get her the help she needed WHEN she needed it because of a broken system that doesn’t correctly diagnose dementia/Alzheimer’s until it’s too late to really slow it down. It shouldn’t be this way – not with the research and the knowledge we have, medicine we have, and resources we have in this country.

I am at peace with the fact that I did my best – that I did everything I could. I don’t need to be externally validated for that…but it makes me feel and have almost a need to validate others who are or have been or will be in my shoes. All these years…they’ve culminated so quickly – in just a matter of weeks.

Three months ago, my mom looked like this (first photo) when I picked her up from the hospital. Tonight, she looks like this (second photo), grimacing and clenching in pain, almost choking on even oral liquid Ativan and Morphine, and her own phlegm and fluid, coughing like a weak squirrel, moaning and crying out in pain to the God that she believes in and still praying incessantly (again, quietly like a weak squirrel, but in pain all the same, barely able to verbalize it).

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are considered mental health issues and illnesses. Don’t tell me you can’t SEE IT because “it’s a mental disorder.” You CAN see it, right there on the MRI. Don’t tell me it’s not real or difficult or physically painful because it’s JUST a “mental disorder.” That’s what I was told for so many years – she’s just getting older. She’s just getting forgetful. She’s just having “mental problems” because of age. No – not just mental problems. A DISEASE – and a terminal one at that.

And you know what else? Especially if you’re a doctor? Don’t pretend to care when you don’t. When you belittle. When you get annoyed with children who are fighting for a better life and end for the parents. Don’t pretend to advocate because for the moment you feel sorry for someone. Don’t pretend like you’re Gucci just because you give to this or that charity or “buy your way” out of having to actually GIVE CARE.

You know what means even more than your charity checks and your “honest opinions” to families struggling with ANY illness or disease or end of life process when you follow up your explanations with the words, “we care?” When you SHOW THE FUCK UP for them.

I am showing up, mama, and even when you don’t want me here, here is where I will be. Too little too late to heal all the old wounds, but not too late to SEE that bygones can be bygones, and despite all of our bad times, all of the good you’ve done for me.

I’m so sorry for the hell, all the chaos I brought to you. I’m sorry for all the hurtful words and for all the times I fought you. I’m sorry I’m not the daughter you’d always hoped I’d be, playing the philharmonic or writing novels or preaching the gospel…but so many of the good things I am are things that you taught me.

“I didn’t carry you in my belly for nine months, but I carried you in my heart for a lifetime,” is what you’d often say to me…and that “to do your best and leave the rest,” was sometimes the only way to be. These words I’ve never forgotten and these words I’ll never forget.

I will soon, again, be an orphan, a fate you once saved me from…and with these fleeting last moments I am sorry. I know I was wrong. I’ll always be a daddy’s girl, and this always broke your heart…but the reality I thought you lived in was creating jealousy into art. But I always had a mom…

I understand your love tonight and what made you who you are…and that even though we aren’t the same we aren’t that far apart. I want to say, “it’s ok, let go,” though it truly breaks my heart…because I understand after all these years who you really are.

Rest now, precious woman, I know you did your best…and your best was really always enough, though I often put you to the test. I thought you didn’t love me, but you just loved me in your way…and, “rest now, precious woman,” is all I can seem to say…