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My Child

Story ID:8038
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Broken Tree Ranch Montana USA
Person:My mom
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My Child

My Child
(A Tribute To My Dear Mom)
by Kathe Campbell

She was my darlin', a no bigger than a minute, beautiful, smart mom who retired from an accounting career after dad left her a young widow. She maintained a lovely condo, loved her children's charities, and enjoyed a busy social life. I was Gran's only adopted child, we were close, and she looked forward to holidays in our mountain home.

During a late summer visit to Gran's in the 1970's, my family noted things going awry. Neither her earrings or shoes matched and she seemed oddly flustered. She agonized over preparing a simple meal, all of us noting refrigerated items in various growing stages. Always the most fastidious woman and good cook, her once impeccable surroundings had become unkempt.

Her checkbook seemed her mortal enemy as she persisted in public exhibitions in her bank lobby. "Mr. Big Shot," she pompously bellowed, "you have walked off with all my money, and I intend to prosecute!" Gratefully, Gran's dear neighbor rescued the aggravation and balanced her checkbook.

The short months of baffling personality changes had left me dumbfounded. I had heard of Alzheimer's disease but had no clue what was happening in those early stages. Gran's doctors said she was experiencing extreme dementia, never once mentioning the word, Alzheimer's. In light of continually becoming lost and a danger to pedestrians, friends finally took over as chauffeurs for Gran's appointments.

In early fall, our daughter, Molly, and I journeyed to the coast on the pretext of having Gran spend her holidays in Montana. She was playing canasta, so we waited until the elevator doors slid open and Gran sailed down the hall with fire in her eyes. "Who are you, anyway?" she demanded. I could see tears welling in Molly's eyes, but she quickly rebounded, "It's us, Gran, mom and Molly," whereupon I kissed Gran's cheek and told her we were going out for dinner. With a loathsome glare, she shoved her purse under her mattress and slammed the bedroom door shut, grumbling something about us being the last thing she needed. We stood stunned.

That evening Molly and I helped a reluctant Gran dress for dinner. At the dimly lit restaurant Molly ordered wine. Gran became giddy, talking and laughing loudly. People stared and smiled politely, but it felt wonderful seeing her cheerful and affectionate. We had our Gran on a toot and she was having a ball, that's all that mattered.

The holidays in our home seemed a much happier and relaxed time for Gran. She adored the kitty and dog, petting them endlessly. I kept cookies on hand for afternoon tea, and chats that taught me to simply agree with her every word. She soon forgot her condo, relatives, and her sweet neighbor. I was met daily by her quizzical Irish eyes beneath dark curls swept away by wings of white as she reached for my hand to ask, "Who are you?"

Gran and I went shopping, to lunch, and the hair dressers weekly. Making me her hero and allaying her constant money worries, I introduced Gran to our bank President. Our doctor educated us on her small stroke showers, how to handle them, and encouraged continued loving care with no confrontations. Oh lordy, I pondered, he obviously knew little about living with Alzheimer's, for every week saw my darlin' sinking into yet another unfamiliar abyss.

While I had a tendency to lose it, my husband, Ken, was an angel with Gran as her hell-roaring years passed. He fixed her lovely breakfasts, my evening meals audibly christened with uncharacteristic curses. She minded him and he respected her as the matriarch of our family, though the matriarch was fast becoming a vegetable. At long last Ken became the "Mr." and I was simply... "that lady!"

So, "that lady" bit the bullet, for my mother was now my child, and despite moments of near defeat, I kept one step ahead of every phase. Our other daughter, Kt, periodically came home from college with a friend or two. "You and dad should get out of the house for dinner and a movie, mom. I'm good at handling things, so go and don't worry."

Thus, Kt and company weathered Gran's first flirt with disaster. She had donned shoes and slipped outdoors into the blackness of trees whipping wildly in a rainstorm. The girls were frantic until finding her in the barn, naked as a jaybird, patting and comforting four unruffled horses. "Poor things were frightened to death, dear," Gran argued. We discovered her shredded nightie in tall pine limbs, like pink banners waving first light greetings to the new day. Knowing my mom, ten years ago she would have laughed hysterically at such a caper.

Bizarre nurturing evolved on characterized by chaos and disorder, the latter months a whole different ball game. I was dealing with eighty pounds of hellcat whose mind had turned to Jell-O, though I could recognize the soul and spirit of a champion beneath. She spoke well when belligerent, stood and walked with a wobble, and thrust daggers of hate. I must have told the grandchildren a thousand times that it wasn't Gran under there. She was divest of her sweet smile and laughter, love of family, and worst of all, her dignity.

I sometimes lay those five years to rest, but occasionally find myself recalling and, yes, laughing about them as my toughest crusade. I dare not even imagine my daughterly role without levity and strong family support. No regrets, for I would gladly do it again. Alzheimer's itself is the degrading horror story, not our dear ones who suffer from it. And in the end, our faces tearless and drawn, a feeling of utter relief swept us away upon a flood of memories.

Sometimes I hear her sweet, soft voice... "Dearest daughter, the scrapbook of my entire life faded into useless mist - thank you for setting me free," and I sigh knowing I did my best.


Published in the HCI series "The Ultimate Mom."