Sunday, September 30, 2018

My Mom Stole a Cat

I’ve cried three times since my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When I got the email from my dad about her diagnosis, the day before her 68th birthday, it felt like a punch to the gut. But it didn’t make me cry. I was in Arizona at the time, hundreds of miles from my family. I reached out to some people who live nearby and asked them to check in on my parents. Just sending those two messages made me cry, knowing that there were people who could look out for my parents in ways that I couldn’t. Those were tears of gratitude. 

Two months before she was diagnosed, I was on a road trip in eastern Canada with her, my sister, and our friend Laura. Even though she hadn’t been diagnosed, it was obvious something was going on. I wrote the following in my journal in Hubbards, Nova Scotia:

“Mom’s memory is not good. She’s pointed out the 100 kph signs multiple times to say that that’s way too fast. I explain to her that it’s kph and not mph and she understands and we move on. This has happened at least a dozen times. Tonight mom and I went on a walk along the beach by our house and it was wonderful. She seemed fully there and we just had a wonderful chat as we walked and enjoyed the sunset. A lot of times lately mom has felt absent, like she wasn’t really there, but on this walk she felt completely present. I told her how much I love her and gave her a big hug. I hope she continues to be present because I will miss her. She knows that her memory is going and that it’s frustrating to dad. She so doesn’t want to be a burden. I’ve had a lot of great times on this trip, but walking with mom on that beach was the best one so far.”
A picture from our walk in Nova Scotia
It wasn’t until I pulled out my journal that day that I realized it was my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. The perfect day for a dear experience. 

Last summer our neighbor’s cat Jack started stopping by my parents’ house. My mom, thinking he was her cat, started feeding him and loving him in the pure way that Ginny Schilaty loves. Mom calls him Simon because she thinks he’s our old cat who died three years ago. When I was home for Christmas I went to the neighbors' house to explain that my mom had accidently stolen their cat. Like typical hipsters living in a Seattle suburb, they said, “We just want him to be happy.” So now my mom has a cat who we all call Jack and whom she calls Simon. 

She loves that cat so much and he loves her. They cuddle on the couch all the time and she lets him in and out of the house dozens of times a day. He, however, hates me. I’ll reach down to pet him and he’ll bend down and squirm away to avoid my hand. I preferred the real Simon. 

I regularly get asked how my mom is doing. I typically say, “She’s as happy as she’s ever been. She is content with life and so cheerful all the time, but she has no idea what’s going on.” We have really good neighbors. Becky, without being asked, started bringing my parents dinner every Saturday. This is nothing new. When my mom was super sick when she was pregnant with me, Becky took care of my parents then, too. 34 years later she’s still watching out for the Schilatys. It’s people like that who make me cry tears of gratitude. It’s people like Becky whose hearts compel them to serve. 

The third time I cried about my mom’s diagnosis was when Kevin’s dad called me. I emailed all of Kevin’s family to tell them that she had Alzheimer’s. He called just to see how I was doing. I tried to be strong and said we all saw it coming and that I was fine. And then I told him how much my mom loves to serve people and how I’ve seen her capacity to serve diminish as her brain has slipped away. Then I told him that I was so looking forward to the day that she would be whole again and she could serve in all the ways she wants to. And then I shed tears of gratitude. 

My mom and I over the summer
Alzheimer’s is often called the long goodbye. My mom is still physically present. I talk to her twice a week. But she’s not the same and it’s devastating. But I’m grateful that she’s still here even though she’s a little more gone every time I return home for a visit. This last visit she ironed all my dirty clothes for me. When I told her they needed to be washed, she washed them and ironed them again. Every day I’m home for a visit she asks me what I want for dinner with no concept that she is no longer capable of making of meal. That’s who she is. She serves people. My hope in the Atonement of Jesus Christ compels me to believe that she will be spending eternity building people up. 

It’s so weird to think that in a year or two my mom won’t know who I am. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16). It is the character of God that He always remembers us. My mom’s character has emerged even more clearly than before as her mind fades away and she becomes more childlike. She is always cheery. She always wants to help. She constantly expresses gratitude for her family and how great it is to be with us. We’re grateful to be able to be with her, too. 


Steve and Melissa said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I have two close family members recently were diagnosed with Alzheimer. I feel like you put into words perfectly how I've felt but never been able to express like feeling like they are absent or present. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

I so sorry to hear that ben

Mary Ann Johnson said...

Ben my daughter sent this article to me. My mother just moved in with us a month ago. It has been an experience. We have known for some years that my mom was going. she still lived alone but her home and her hygiene, as well as her eating habits, finally became too outrageous to leave her alone.

Having my mom here has posed some challenges because we answer the same questions over and over hour after hour. However, I have been so grateful for the soul-expanding experiences we are having. Alzheimer's is hard but at the same time so rewarding. We just try to remain prepared for the next milestone in the disease. By the way, I am 68 and my mom is 87. thank you for sharing. is also

Day said...

This is the first time that I’ve read your thoughts. Your mother is very special to me. She attended the temple with me the first time as you know. She is probably the main reason that I was able to come back to church. Each time I think of all of the conversations that we shared part of me is grateful that she won’t remember some of them. Sorry but there was a lot of ugly stuff. But then I think of all of the good memories that she will lose and I just want to cry for each of you. Your mother is truly one of the most wonderful people our heavenly father put on this earth. I cannot imagine the frustration and the sorrow for each of you including Buzz. I will continue to hold each of you up in prayer.