by Maria Schulz
We just survived the latest round of the “cough/cold/stomach virus/sore throat/body aches/kill me now” scourge here at my house. My kids are good sports, but it’s never fun being sick. We all tried to put up with the crankiness, worry, hovering, crummy attitudes, and tears…and that was just me.
It brought me right back to my own bouts with the flu when I was a kid. The very first time I had it, I didn’t know what was happening to me. Suddenly, I was hot. I stared out the window at the glowing full moon and wondered…was I becoming a werewolf? No, no…that couldn’t be the logical explanation. Or could it?
I sat in my bedroom, alternately feeling as though my head was encased in dry ice or that I was being lit on fire from my hair down. My stomach was killing me and I was hit by waves of dizziness. I felt a little like that girl would have if Dudley Do Right didn’t get her off those train tracks in time to keep her from being run over.
Through it all, there was actually a bright spot (yes, there was a good part!). It was having my mother around, fussing over me. She would pop into my room to check on my temperature, tuck in my blankets, give me a hot water bottle, or try to feed me toast or chicken noodle soup. Mom let me sleep as much as I wanted, or come out and watch as many episodes of I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, The Price is Right, and The Gong Show as I wanted. She didn’t complain when I suddenly got so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I crawled back into my room for my millionth siesta of the day.
When the marauding gang that was my brothers learned that I was so nauseous I couldn’t see straight, they bought White Castle and waved it in my face. My mother rescued me from the attic, which was cold but the only place where the murder burgers’ smell hadn’t penetrated, and scolded my brothers.
During those awful times when I was sick, Mom would come home from her errands with coloring books, paper dolls, or dawn dolls to help me pass the time when I was feeling a little better. If I was too sick to get out of bed, she’d sit on the edge of my bed and tell me funny stories about her life. There were stories of her parents, sister and brother, the boys she dated (and the funny one she married: a.k.a., my dad), and school tales.
If I couldn’t fall asleep, she would lay next to me and stroke my hair until blessed sleep finally arrived. Sometimes, the lack of sleep and frustration with being sick would make me cranky, and I would tell her to go away. A few times, my fever got so high that I started saying mean, awful things. But no matter how rotten I was to her, she kept coming back.
Flash forward 30 some odd years. Now, it’s my mother who lies in the bed and it’s me who sometimes cares for her. I bring her lots of little things to make the days pass: books (when she can still read), crossword puzzles (when she can still do them), pictures of her grandchildren, music. Some times she is delighted to see me. Some days, I come off the elevator and see her dancing the samba or helping the nurses with their daily chores. My mother likes to keep busy.
Some days, Mom is very cranky and she tells me to go away. There are even times when she sees me and starts to cry. When I ask her why, she tells me: “You are dating my husband!” Yes, she thinks I’m trying to steal her man (my father….AAAAAAACCCCKKK!)
Oh how this hurts. She doesn’t remember me! I realize that it’s not her fault, that Alzheimer’s Disease is cruel and relentless, but the first time this happens, I am less than logical. I respond, “Mom, believe me, I don’t want him. He’s all yours!” But humor doesn’t help, and she keeps crying. Frustrated, I say, “Mom! It’s me, Maria! I’m your baby! Your daughter! That man is my father!” and she responds, “You lie.”
I walk away for ten minutes and come back, hoping the crankiness, hatred, and despair has passed. Luckily, this time it works. The reset button is hit, and although she doesn’t recognize me, she doesn’t hate me either.
Friends who hear this story say to me, “Why keep going back? She doesn’t remember you. You don’t have to go.” But my response to all of them is this: she may not remember me, but I REMEMBER HER. For that reason alone, I will never stop going.
One day, I come to visit and find my parents asleep in her room. My father is propped up in a chair next to the bed, tuckered out and snoring. My mother is sleeping softly as I sit in a chair across from her. Suddenly, she opens her eyes and pats the bed. “Come here,” she mouths to me. I get into the bed and she starts to stroke my hair.
“Maria, Maria, Maria,” she says softly. She knows who I am. It has been such a long time since I heard my mother say my name that I don’t move for fear of it all going away again. We lay there for an hour or so, remembering who we are and what we mean to each other. Yes, there was a good part to this after all.
It’s been 7 years since my mother passed on, but when I am happy or sad, elated or deflated, excited or exhausted, I can still hear my mother saying, “Maria” just like that day. Her voice is tinged with joy because she remembers me and she’s thrilled to see me.
I think of her often, especially when my children are sick and I’m checking them for fevers, stroking their hair, or telling them funny stories to cheer them up. I like to think that my mother is here too, keeping an eye on her girls.
This video that my daughter spotted on Huffington Post and sent to me reminds me a lot of that day with my mother. It made me smile…and I hope it makes you smile too.
One of my mother’s favorite treats was going with my Dad and her kids to Jahn’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Richmond Hill, Queens. We’d go to celebrate our birthdays, birth certificates in hand, so we could score FREE ICE CREAM! Enjoy this recipe from Food Network and the Neely’s, but feel free to use whatever flavor ice cream you like, and make sure you keep an eye on your caramel sauce so it’s not lumpy (use room temperature cream too, like the many reviewers of this recipe suggested). Enjoy!
So…what’s your favorite memory of your mom? Did she have a favorite treat? Do you like ice cream? To all my friends who are dealing with a mom, dad, grandparent, relative or friend with Alzheimer’s disease, remember: you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself today, and you’ll have more patience for your AD patient. Thanks, and have a great day.