Last month was a joyous celebration of 10 Years of richly joined lives. However, last month held another anniversary of sorts. The same magical weekend where we celebrated our new beginning with family and friends, we noticed my mother’s increasingly odd behavior.
Now, my mother has always been unconventional. As far back as I can remember, she did things the way she wanted, without much regard for social niceties. She was bright, bold and engaging, but I belatedly learned to write thank you notes from my best friend’s family, not my own.
Over that incredible weekend, there were pieces of her unraveling that we were yet to understand.
For example, my mother found herself on a plane with my best friend’s family, whom she did not know well. In response to a question like, “How are you?”, my mother unloaded for most of the short flight, sharing great detail about how difficult it is when clients do not pay, the horrible state of her finances and how close she was to losing her home.
Then at the end of the weekend, after some cross-country family left for an 8am flight, my mother could not figure out where to find the rest of us. Instead of using her cell phone to call someone, she packed up her rolling suitcase and wheeled it aimlessly up and down the street, looking for someone familiar.
Approximately three months later, I drove down to New York to take my mother to an appointment with a neurologist. There, I learned that my mother had no memory of my cousin’s wedding in Las Vegas, one month prior to my own. We talked about that wedding, and she knew she was there. My mother understood that she must have traveled by airplane, but she had no recollection of the trip. I chose not to ask her if she remembered my own wedding, as I did not think I could handle her response. She was 60 years old.
Notwithstanding her significant memory loss and increasingly confusing behavior, my mother tested well at the neurologist’s office. It was explained to me that bright individuals often could compensate for some of their impairments during testing. So we left with more questions than answers.
It soon became increasingly clear that my mother was not able to operate her solo law practice. She was unwilling to give it up, as she had nothing saved for retirement. But in a few months, even she realized she could not do the work.
I cannot imagine the panic she must have felt.
Within nine months of our wedding, my mother was on a plane to California to live with family, at a point in time where I, in my second trimester of my first pregnancy, was unable and unwilling to take her in.
We were lucky to have generous family inviting my mother to live with them. It took a few years, but ultimately, she received a dementia diagnosis. She lived in California for over six years, where, of course, her illness progressed.
We then moved my mother to a nursing home in Connecticut with a locked memory care unit. She was furious, for a long time. And then, she forgot.
Three years in a nursing home is endless. At first, she talked of going home. She knew me and my brothers. She enjoyed my children. She paced the corridors. Later, she stopped recalling names but still recognized my face. Then, her speech declined.
This past December, my mother was taken off her dementia medications without family involvement or knowledge. Shortly thereafter, she greatly deteriorated. We will never know whether her decline related to the abrupt change in medication or whether, after years of some stability, it was just her time. Among other changes, she went from great mobility to a wheelchair in a handful of months. She was vacantly passing the time.
We recently moved my mother to an amazing facility in Connecticut after four years on the waitlist. In her new home, my mother is celebrated as an individual. Her quality of life has improved tremendously, along with my peace of mind. This is as good as it gets, under the circumstances.
Over the last 10 years, while my young family is growing, the first most important person in my life continues in her downward spiral. So, so bittersweet.