Though not technically estranged, our relationship was tenuous at best, stitched together only by threads of my guilt and desire not to be someone who had no contact with her mother. She had driven my father, my sister, her siblings and her friends away decades ago. She wouldn’t formally be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease for several months until other possibilities were eliminated, but I began working under the assumption that seeds beyond manic depression had taken root in her 73-year-old brain.
I spent the next 12 months repairing neglect. I completed nine years of past due state and federal taxes, reinstated lapsed insurance, recovered money lost in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, and coordinated my mom’s relocation from New York to Virginia (including a biohazard team’s disposal of over 8,000 pounds of the waste that had engulfed her small apartment). Between five surgeries, a near-death lung infection and several teeth traumas, I attended over 50 medical and 30 dental appointments.
Instead of gratitude, I received accusations: I was stealing her money, treating her as an infant, keeping her locked up. I yelled back initially, then cursed myself for being frustrated. I was educated enough with dementia to know the disease distorts reality, but so much of her vitriol was what she had always spewed at me, I couldn’t ignore it all. I felt torn between my duty to aid in her rehabilitation and my desire to enjoy time with my husband and three kids.
I yearned to be given the gift that others who care for parents with Alzheimer’s mention. The sense of fulfillment for returning the love and care received as a child to a loving parent. I had been raised in an anxiety-ridden environment full of arguments where emotional detachment became my self-defense mechanism. I felt nothing.
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