November 12th marked two years since my Mom lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Ultimately pancreatic cancer took her life but I blame Alzheimer’s for stealing her ability to communicate what surely must have been pain. Dianne – the mother of five, Boston native, sports fan, green bean lover – was gone long before she passed away, but I miss her all the same. Always incredibly private, she instructed Dad early on “not to tell the kids” about her diagnosis. Her mother lived with Alzheimer’s for sixteen years, nine of which were in a nursing home. I can’t imagine the depth of what she felt when she realized that she was headed down the same path. I worry I let her down by not pushing her to let me in to face it with her – but that wasn’t her style. Instead, we honored her wishes and gave her the only thing there is to give someone suffering from Alzheimer’s: time, patience and love.
Watching your mother lose her ability to communicate with the world, literally lose her mind, is no small thing. Early in her diagnosis, I dreamed that she was under water at the edge of a pond, looking up at me but slowly sinking. I was frozen, unable to help. The image of her floating away and the calm look in her eyes haunted me. The dream proved an accurate metaphor for what became our painful reality. Much like I’ve wondered when these wrinkles showed up on my face, or how my nephew is suddenly 6’2”…we’d somehow reached a new reality where Mom had stopped driving, would inform Dad he “needed to leave because her husband would be home soon,” and would occasionally try to drink liquid soap…just open it right up like it was a bottle of soda. She slipped away from us minute by minute for nine years, and yet it was still a shock when we learned she had stage IV cancer. There were no treatment choices to be made; her organs were shutting down. The only course of action was to make her comfortable and gather by her bedside to say goodbye.
My Mom was amazing and beautiful and spunky until those final days. I swear she had good comedic timing even in the later years and her smile was infectious. She may not have always gotten the name, but her face lit up each time she saw one of us. She at least knew she knew us – a gift for which I will be forever grateful.
Amidst the lunacy of the caregiving years, I started performing stand up. The gravity of my Mom’s situation helped me overcome wicked stage fright. Before a show I would talk to myself, “You better get on with it. THIS IS THE GOOD STUFF IN LIFE. What’s the worst thing that can happen on stage? People don’t laugh? Big frigging deal Tracy, get over yourself.” My heart still pounds before I get on stage but I think about my Mom & it focuses me. I know I can trust myself up there now. Mom never saw me perform, but I know she would be proud. She’d tell me that it wasn’t ladylike to curse, but she would be proud. Growing up she used to tell me, in a way that only a mother can, that I should write a book. I hope that in some way telling silly stories into a microphone or writing blog posts honors her and that wish for me.