Like many other chronic illnesses, Alzheimers has a mysterious rhythm of good days and bad, but gradually what you used to consider a very bad day becomes the norm. The good days are now a pleasant surprise, but Mom's not able to string many of them together anymore.
I've read a few books--memoirs, mostly--about Alzheimers, and I've had a few friends who have gone through it with family members, but I've never known of anyone who was affected in the same way Mom has been. I think, to a large degree, the disease has just magnified my mom's worst personality traits. As I've matured I better understand how some of those traits came into being -- long before Alzheimers wrote them so large in our lives -- but that hasn't really made this part of our lives together any easier to bear.
The hardest thing for me is that there are so many times now when I cannot muster compassion for her. I can only imagine how awful it must be for her to live with the belief that her family members have stolen money, jewelry, coin collections, sheets, towels, clothes and address books from her. She believes it when she tells one of her children that another has said horrible things to her, things like, I wish you were dead, You've never done anything for me, or, I don't want to see you anymore because I'm afraid you'll kill my child.
My heart goes out to her husband whom she accuses of adultery, thievery, cruelty, alcoholism and impossible sexual acts. (Bless his heart, he's 87, has at least two kinds of cancer and a history of strokes, yet he dotes on my mother and cares for her with patience and tenderness.) I can imagine how awful it must be for her, but I can't do anything about it.
There's no sense trying to talk her out of these beliefs. We have all tried desperately to relieve her of the pain her paranoia causes. The thing is, if I try to assure her that Carl's not having an affair, and not stealing her money, she accuses me of siding with him and betraying her. The arguments could go on forever; each point raised in defense of the accused seeds another evil imagining in the mind of the accuser. Anything said to convince her these things can't possibly be true becomes ammunition that her sick brain uses against us both.
With that realization I've quit answering the phone. I cleared most of the 42 messages from my machine this morning. And then at lunch time, when I meant to be checking in with a friend who had left two of those messages, my own brain conspired with my dialing finger and called Mom instead. I told her I was just calling to tell her that I loved her.
I know there will probably come a time when she doesn't remember her children, but already she's forgotten who we are.
I overslept this morning, but was out of bed with coffee in hand by 6:00. I had my boy up, fed, bathed, dressed and walked to school by 7:35. By 7:45 I was home again, and getting ready for work. Again this morning I tried very hard to get to work by 8:30 instead of 9:00, but 8:50 was the best I could do.
Because I'm a vain, aging, girly girl, the process of getting ready for work entails more than you might think, and certainly more than it used to. As you read on, please try to imagine the time and money associated with the process.
Once in the tub, I use a two-step microderm abrasion product on my aging, sun-damaged, wrinkling, sagging face. After applying the microderm abrasion activator, I gently massage the microderm abrasion beads over my face one more time, finally rinsing the two-step microderm abrasion mess off of my face with a washcloth.
Hair is washed with special shampoo for colored, damaged hair. Moisturizing conditioner is applied and left on hair while I wash the rest of me using a moisturizing body wash applied to a net bath sponge for the exfoliating benefits. Once moisturizing body wash is rinsed off, I rinse moisturizing conditioner from hair, and then apply red-tinted hair glaze to help cover gray and prolong expensive salon color job. That stays on while I use moisturizing shave cream with 3-blade Venus razor on legs and pits.
When I'm done shaving and have rinsed off moisturizing shave cream, it's time to go at my feet with pumice stone. Now I can rinse red-tinted hair glaze from my graying hair. That done, it's time to get out of the tub.
Once out of the tub I brush my teeth with a special whitening toothpaste. Next, I apply moisturizer with alphy hydroxy to aging, sun-damaged, wrinkling, sagging face; this product promises to remove sun spots and fine wrinkles and to firm up my sagging skin. For special sagging skin, fine wrinkles, and dark circles around the delicate eye area, I apply a serum created specifically the delicate eye area. Next, I apply baby powder, and antiperspirant. Body lotion with sunscreen is applied next to the rest of my body, except for my legs. My legs are pale and ugly and require special attention. They receive a layer of moisturizing self-tanning lotion with sunscreen.
While the self-tanning lotion dries, I smear two kinds of styling product into my hair. One of these contains silicone to smooth my aging, frizzy, graying hair. This is followed by three or four minutes of blow drying with a vented brush, and a couple more drops of silicone. Some days, if I'm not already running late, this is followed by two minutes with a curling iron, which is then followed by a two-minute search for aloe gel, because I invariably burn myself in my haste. If I'm still not running late after the four-minute curling iron torture, I apply a concealer to dark under-eye circles, and then a light layer of foundation.
Now I'm done in the bathroom and can get dressed. Nothing fits because I've quit smoking for health reasons, but have gained enough weight that it's a health concern. I put on something that doesn't fit anyhow, and smear a little more specialty lotion on my feet before I put on my sandals. As I do so I think for the hundredth time that I really, really need a manicure and pedicure.
If any more makeup is going to be applied, it will have to be done in the car. It will entail eyeshadow--lighter overall, darker under browbone to camouflage sagging upper lids. Then it's the eyeliner and mascara--each applied only to upper lid and lashes to camouflage sagging upper lids. Finally, some lipcolor followed with a moisturizing lip gloss containing sunscreen to make aging, thinning lips appear fuller while simultaneously protecting my aging, thinning lips from the damaging effects of sun exposure.
Now, here's the thing: After using 25 products and eight tools, I still look like hell. I look like a middle-aged, overweight, mother of a six-year-old boy, who's been up since 6:00 in the morning (Whoo-hoo! Did I mention I got an extra half hour of sleep?), who's on her way to a full-time job. I'm stressed out because I'm running late for work. I've spent about a million dollars on products that, at best, work only slightly, but mostly not at all; superstition and marketing genius compel me to continue using these products. That, and the fear of what I'd look like if I didn't.
Everytime crude oil prices have increased, I've taken it in stride. I've even been optimistic that higher fuel prices would mean more environmentally responsible auto choices and reduced energy consumption.
At the same time, I've felt sorry for all the Americans who cannot absorb the added expense. In this region ,the outlying counties have a lot of poverty but don't have mass transit systems. And we all know of people who commute from as far away as Panacea, Perry or Bainbridge GA for low-paying state jobs in Tallahassee. Having worked with impoverished families, it's not a vague concept for me. I associate names and faces with the hardships caused by increased gas prices and the high grocery prices they contribute to, and it saddens me.
But now I'm mad. This week the big oil companies announced their first-quarter earnings, and the numbers are flabbergasting! Exxon Mobil's profits are up 17% compared to first quarter 2007. Chevron's profits are up 10%. BP's profits are up 63%.