Where to begin? / March 18, 2006

My mother introduced herself to me last night.

The day had been an awful one, for her, for me and for my sister. It seems as if her Alzheimer’s has worsened–as usual, in ways I never expected. She had called me at work, for the second time this week, complaining that she felt terrible. She couldn’t pinpoint any one symptom–she just felt awful. I know now that this is morning anxiety. She doesn’t want to be alone all day–she does nothing but sit in the same place every day and just stare. I imagine that she tries to figure out why things don’t add up any more, why names and faces have gone their separate ways, why the distant past is creeping up on her.

I hesitated when she called this time. Why can’t you go lie down and say a rosary? She hung up on me and was still mad when I got home seven hours later. I had spent the day wondering if this was the day when she would finally venture fully into the awful place she’s circling, where memory is just a whiff of something in the air. I was so tired after we ate that I lay down on my bed with the lights out–I didn’t tell her what I was doing, as I usually would. She leaned in after awhile and asked me if I wanted anything. Some time after that, she tapped on my open door and said something about two dogs being in the living room. I told her that they would come to bed when they were ready, and she said, I didn’t know that they knew you. Conversation with my mother often includes these disconnects, which remind me of how much of her confusion she must hide. I told her that they were my dogs, so, yes, they know me, and I expected this to patch things up in her mind.

But she returned to me, still lying on my bed in the dark, just before she went to bed with instructions about where the kitchen was, and that I should feel free to eat anything I wanted to, if I was hungry. And my name is Sally, she said to me.

So I had changed from her daughter into a stranger, just by breaking our nightly routine of sitting together after dinner in the living room. And she spent all of today trying to put me together again. Who was the person in the bedroom? she asked me, over and over and over again. Is there anyone else here? Why has my family deserted me today?

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