“We’re going to go over a series of questions. Try to answer them to the best of your ability. Don’t worry about giving a wrong answer.”
I sat in the doctor’s office with my mother who was about to go through memory test questions. It had been a year and a half since I noticed a change in her, where confusion started clouding her day-to-day tasks and effecting her routine. Up until now, she had been in denial about her memory loss and had just recently admitted that something more may be amiss than just typical forgetfulness.
She glanced at me; I gave her a reassuring smile.
“What year is it?”
In motherhood milestones, this has been the best year yet. My daughter started driving; my son, who was involved in sports, can be driven around by someone other than me. Both had excellent grades. They were contributing members of our household. I was enjoying my newfound freedom and flexibility.
“What month is it?”
“August! Just turned August.” She beamed, like this was the one question she needed to get right to prove she wasn’t going crazy after all.
The excitement of having two teenagers who were self-sustainable, thus allowing me to focus my time and energy elsewhere, came to a halt when I realized my mother’s memory was getting worse. Thoughts of spending all my free time on the husband, hobbies, and friends vanished and were replaced with a new reality.
“It’s August, “the doctor confirms. “What is the date and the day of the week?”
“Must be the seventh…which would make it a…Monday?” She looked at me for the right answer while I kept my face as passive as possible. I gave her another smile. It was Thursday, August 3rd. We had a conversation about it being Thursday on the drive over to the doctor’s office. “Once you retire, all the days just kind of blur together,” my mom said, half-jokingly. She’s used this excuse with me many times before.
Weeks before, I vented my frustration to my husband. “I told her I was going to pick her up to take her to her appointment today, and she left anyway!”
“I got another notice that her bill is overdue. I wish she would just let me handle her payments!”
“Oh my gosh, if I have to hear about her crazy medical theories on why she thinks she’s NOT losing it, I’M going to lose it!”
And every single time, my husband would hug me and say the same thing. “It may be unfair, but she can’t help it babe. She’s losing it, and she needs our help. You’re going to have to be the parent in this situation.”
The doctor gave her a gentle smile. “Don’t you worry about it, Mrs. L. Now I’m going to give you five words that I want you to try and remember until the end of the test. Apple. Car. House. Chair. Dog.”
It eventually hit me that I WAS being unfair towards my mother. The milestones my children achieved in each stage of their lives had given me the opportunity to trust them with additional responsibilities. My mom is in the stage of her life where the milestones are reversing, and I cannot expect her to be responsible for what she used to have the ability to do before.
“I am going to read a short story to you, and then ask you some questions at the end.” As the doctor finished and started inquiring about what she could retain from the storyline, she became increasingly agitated knowing she was not doing well.
This woman had battled breast cancer in her 40s, went on to earn her degree in engineering and is currently spending her retirement taking care of her husband of 40 years, my father, who has progressed dementia. Her independence is important to her; her pride, fragile. I had to carefully gauge the best way to assist her without making her feel like she had lost control and was incapable of taking care of herself and my father.
“All right, now I want you to draw the face of a clock, with the time reading five to eleven.” She did well with this one. It took her some time, with her only real slip up being the inability to remember if the minute hand was shorter or longer than the hour hand.
Going back in time was what I needed to do to gain the right perspective on how to move forward. I remembered the wonderful childhood I had growing up thanks to the choices and sacrifices she and my father made for my brother and me. The important car ride conversations we had. Our bonding times watching musicals. When we laughed so hard we cried.
“For this next test, I will give you 30 seconds to name as many animals as possible. And go.”
“Uhhh…dog. Cat. Frog. Horse. Pig. Dog….” She went on to name about 10 animals before her time was up.
Over time, I have learned to pick my battles, like a mother with a child. Let her speak, even if it’s only to repeat herself. Not to argue with her about whether she’s right or wrong on the less important subjects, because frankly it doesn’t matter. Time, and love, is all that matters.
“We are just about done, Mrs. L,” the doctor said, shuffling his papers on his clipboard. “Now all I need you to do is to tell me the five words I gave you at the beginning of the test.”
My mother gave a sigh and looked to me. I tried to soften the blow. “I honestly don’t know if I remember all the words, mom.”
“Uh…apple. Dog? Hmmm, sheep?” That’s as far as she got.
The doctor talked about the importance of making any legal changes soon: DNR, Last Will & Testament, Power of Attorney, Advanced Directive. My mom cried. My heart broke.
We’ve set up a bedroom in the house for my parents, preparing for the day they move in with us. My vision of motherhood has now changed to include my parents with my children. I wish to continue growing and learning from my mother who has such a knack for remembering the good over the bad.
As my mom and I walked out of the doctor’s office, she turned to me and smiled. “That was a good visit, don’t you think?” She asked, her cheeks still wet from her tears.