I remember my Dad saying “It’s hell getting old.” When I really stop and think about that statement, I find it a little weird. Why? Because I lost my Dad when he was 62. I’m less than ten years away from being 62. Sometimes I stop and look at myself in the mirror and marvel at the fact that I have become old.
My dad was fun and the life of the party. Any room that he walked into, everyone was glad to see him. He loved his family, his friends, and his history. He was compassionate, loving, and kind. I know I was fortunate to have him as long as I did.
He missed out on seeing his grandchildren grown into wonderful adults. He missed out on the traveling he and my mom were always going to do when they retired. He would have liked this place that Doug and I bought. I miss his advice on what to plant. He grew up on a farm, broke horses in, worked on a ranch, and owned his own nursery. He would be a wealth of information.
My mother was only 56 when she lost her husband. It was hard on her at first. She was still working, so she had that to fill her days. When my Dad passed away, I had a peculiar sense of responsibility for her. It wasn’t only the nursery that she was left with. Doug and I helped her keep those plants alive and then liquidate them. I felt responsible for her loneliness. If I hadn’t had the responsibility of my own household and husband, I would have been compelled to be with her constantly.
She found her way as a widow. She visited her grandchildren, her siblings, her friends. She retired when she was 62. She was very tired of working. At the age I am now, I am a lot like my mother was then. At work she did not take crap from anyone. She had one man that she worked with in her cubicle tell her “I’m going to put my fist through your face.” She stood up and asked him very firmly, “You’re going to do what?” Again he told her he was going to put his fist in her face. She continued to ask him and he continued to tell her, gradually getting louder and louder until security escorted him out of the building.
When she decided to retire, she did not want her co-workers giving her a party. She just wanted to be gone. She said that she would spend her time taking care of and doing for others. That she did. Active in her church, she visited shut ins, the hospitalized, the sick. She took others to doctors appointments, dialysis, chemo treatments. She sat with a new mother who had hurt her back for weeks. She cleaned and looked after the mission house that her church had. She helped fix meals for funerals. She sat with an Alzheimer’s patient once a week, so that the woman’s husband (her full time caregiver) could have a break. She took a woman to the nursing home once a week to visit the woman’s husband. She has always done for others. She was always there for me, her family, her friends, and complete strangers. My mother was a go getter. She would jump in to help who ever needed her, regardless of the cost to her.
So it was with a heavy, but knowing heart that we learned that she has Alzheimer’s. Our family started seeing the signs a couple of years ago. At first we told ourselves that it was just a normal part of aging. The forgetfulness, the confusion. She told me several times over the last couple of years that she needed to get her “brain checked out” or that she needed some medicine for her brain. I would tell her, “It’s okay. I forget stuff too. Don’t worry about it.”
When she was officially diagnosed by a neurologist, we were not surprised. But we were devastated. I wallowed in my sadness for a couple of hours. Then I picked myself up and pulled my inner Betty up. My inner Betty is the part of my mother in me. It allows me to see the rainbow after the rain. It allows me to be optimistic. That part of her that has been instilled in me grants me the ability to put my sadness to the back of the line and look around and ask myself, “What can I do?”
My family has lot to learn about Alzheimer’s. We are just starting out on the journey. It is not a path of our choosing, But we will walk it together.