BECOMING MOM – The Spiral Begins by Jen Ballantyne
Mom could barely get her breath through scared tears. “What is it, Mom?” “The Sheriff came and he is going to take my house!” (…more tears). I was fearful. Not that I thought the Sheriff would take Mom’s house, but I had never heard her so frantic. I caught the next plane. It took four days, but thankfully, Mom kept every piece of mail she received in the past few years. I pieced together why the Sheriff had shown up – to serve Mom with notice of a lawsuit from a creditor. For whatever reason, she failed to pay this creditor and many others too. It took huge effort and a home equity loan to pay those owed, but we got past this crisis. Even so, I had an uneasy feeling we would have another.
Our family could no longer ignore what was happening to Mom. From ages 60 to 70, she suffered one health mishap after another. Mom was always healing from something. We cheered her on and helped her through, but (mostly) failed to notice that there was a little less of her with each recovery. Mrs. Clean’s house was a little less clean. Not all of the meal got to the table at the same time. The books we sent to bookworm Mom were piled everywhere, unread. Her grooming slipped. In hindsight, there were so many instances where Mom forgot important things. She was not the Mom we knew. She was overwhelmed much of the time. Not revealing this was exhausting her.
Dad died when Mom was only 53. Her last child left home just a year before and her first grandchild was just born. Likely the best years of her life followed. The hard work of Mom’s life was past. She had enough money. Mom had amazing friends and more interests than she had time to pursue. Mom traveled. She volunteered countless hours in support of a children’s theatre and a center that promoted the gardening arts. Mom never missed an important event in the lives of her children or grandchildren. If one of us needed something, she would come immediately and stay as long as we needed her. The health issues were mere setbacks, or so we thought. How about now? Was this normal aging or something else?
I wrote Mom’s doctor a letter describing our concerns because I felt she might have been fooling him as she had us. (I think he had some concerns of his own.) We started months of grueling medical and psychological testing to eliminate everything else it could be. While a geriatric psychiatrist evaluated Mom, I sat in the waiting room alone. I could hear their conversation and it broke my heart. Mom knew and she was so frightened. Mom has always been the one to comfort me, not the other way around. “Who was going to mother me?” was my selfish thought.
Finally, the neurologist’s office wanted to meet. I wanted to beg for an answer right away on the telephone, but I set the appointment. This was a chance for my brother and sisters to attend. As a family, we got the diagnosis. Mom had Alzheimer’s Disease. I was not even sure how to spell it, let alone know what that meant. All the months I had to consider what we would hear, but to break the stunned silence I said the dumbest thing…” Well, this is not going to ruin anyone’s life.” Little did I understand, eventually it would and this was the start of my becoming mom.