Alzheimer’s: Scared of the Dark

Some days I feel as if I accomplish nothing. Absolutely nothing. I am bombarded by the  mountains of details in life: my closet needs to be cleaned out, my kid needs to be moved across the country, my businesses kind of need to be managed. But in the words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly my dear…” This is one of those days, so if that scares you, hit the “back” button on your browser and move along.

I’m too tired to put a glossy veneer on my life.

If, on the other hand, your life is piling up into great big snowdrifts that will never melt and are freezing you to your core, you might want to keep reading, if for no other reason than to realize you have company.

My mother is dying, and I don’t really know how to process that. She isn’t dying quickly and neatly, either. That would be too easy. Honestly, Mom never made anything too easy on me so I don’t know why I expected any different out of her death. She is dying one brain cell at a time. Planning for her death amounts to estimating how many brain cells she has left before she starts killing off ones required for functions like eating and breathing. It really stinks. And some days I can’t wait for it to be over.

Last night she forgot how to open the door of her bedroom, so she stood in her room in the dark. She was afraid and had no way to escape from her room. Can you imagine that? She began banging her head on the door, over and over until her caregiver came running and, without even one conscious thought, opened the door and let the light pour in. Such a simple thing: open the door. By then Mom’s head was swelling, even though she couldn’t have hit her head more than a few times. It must have felt like eternity to Mom, those 30 seconds before the caregiver was able to move from the living room to the bedroom door.

An 80 year old woman standing trapped in the dark.

Most of last week was a little like that. Mom has intermittent attacks of something we can only call “non-responsive moments.” She goes to sleep and won’t or can’t wake up. The doctors don’t know why it happens, or why she spontaneously comes back after a time to begin living her horribly difficult life again. Last week she nearly didn’t come back, and as hard as it would have been, that would have been a blessing. Every time she wakes back up she awakens to a life that is a little more confusing than before, a little smaller and a lot scarier. David and I made some hard decisions on what “heroic measures” mean to a doctor and caregivers. We found double-sided locks and put them on her doors so she can’t wander out into streets. We even spent one really icky “observation day” in an Alzheimer’s ward with Mom, during which she wandered the ward and cleaned everyone else’s room. She ended that day by climbing, Goldilocks-like, into a comfy bed and falling asleep from sheer exhaustion. I wouldn’t wish her life on anyone right now, let alone my own mother.

Now is the time when I usually bring my thoughts back to what I know is true. I know that God loves her and his heart hurts for her too. I know that he loves me, and is using all of this for some grand purpose. I know that my days do accomplish things, even ones like today that seem to be filled with pointless moments and steps backwards in the race to life in the Kingdom. I know – though I do not feel – that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. I know these things.

So on another day I might be able to share an insight from this day, or encourage you on your own pathway. I might be able to see how the Kingdom is being brought a little closer by my day. Knowing those things, seeing those things, sharing those things might make sense of all this.

But not today.

By Marla Saunders

I am passionately devoted to living my life in the places God has given me. Over the years those places have changed: from homeschooler to businesswoman, from consumer to storyteller. These days I'm focusing on building a new business and figuring out what it means to do everything with integrity and informed by faith.