Alzheimer’s Disease: The Year After

I am, generally speaking, an incredibly optimistic person. I can find the good in pretty much anything that comes my way.  Everything, everyone and every experience has some beauty, some “magic” that ultimately has some divine plan, or at least I like to think so.

Another jam packed holiday season is upon us.  It is around this time, every year, that I try to get my home and family in order for the festivities. Part of this yearly ritual for me is to look back to see where I have come.  I am grateful for so many things, but what I am most thankful for? My mind and the gift of my memories.  This year I learned first hand about the disease that no one wants. A disease that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. This crippling disease that no one dare speak of? Alzheimer’s disease.

My mother was diagnosed officially December 3, 2014 with what the doctor reported as “Moderate Alzheimer’s” disease at the age of 65. You read that correctly, 65.  She had no concept of what year, day, season, or month she was in. She couldn’t recall 3 simple words (Yellow, Tulip, Cadillac) after several attempts. I don’t think I will ever forget those 3 words. The list goes on. I knew this was coming after several experiences with her throughout the last 7 plus years. She closed the door on our relationship when I tried to get her help, something I am learning, can be very common for family members to experience. This disease has destroyed my mother as I knew her, revealed facts about her I probably should have never known, and wrecked many relationships, some beyond repair.

My Family & I at the holiday party at held at my mom’s place December 2015
 There is so much I learned in the past year that I am sure I could write a book about, but for now I will focus on what changed since my mother’s diagnosis.

I started the practice of living, I mean really living.  This is still a practice and I am still learning. No longer a prisoner of the past, which I never really was, but now I also let go of what I can’t control: the future. Yoga has been a life saver.

It all became enough: My entire life my mother focused on bigger and better things.  When my sister and I cleared out my mother’s house and storage shed we encountered countless, what I will call, “vision” lists about all the things she would attain when she was wealthy.  She even wanted a car she could never fit in quite right to drive at barely 4’10”.  She never realized all she had.  Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t strive to do better, it means that I have learned that what I have is always enough. The material doesn’t define me or my happiness.

I started loving me.  I love this body I live in.  For the last 10 years especially the first 5 of those 10 years, it has been a working body. This body grew 2 beautiful children and fed them each for 1.5+ years each, and at times, exclusively. This body plays with her children and takes them on wild adventures with its partner in crime, Mr. Syto.  This body is a warrior.

I learned to take many pictures and to be in as many pictures as possible no matter how my hair, skin or body is performing that day.

I became fearful. I am a dietitian. I know what that pound of bacon will do to my arteries especially the ones in my brain.

From fear I became plant based. I dislike it immensely when someone labels their eating patterns, but the plant based moniker, I love.  It leaves it open ended.  My choices are plant based.  I like the saying: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want it to be my fault.” You don’t have to agree with my food choices. Living this was keeps me happy, and it gives me hope.

I learned to practice forgiveness.  My life has been one wild soap opera. I think we all have these types of experiences throughout our lives.  I learned not to ever forget all the trials, to learn from them, forgive (even if it is a silent forgiveness in my own heart), and to move on.

Finally, the most important lesson I learned? First, when you mother doesn’t recognize you, it shatters your world, even when she remembers a moment later. That initial “who are you look” is forever imprinted in my brain.  My final lesson? I am a survivor.

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