I Will Never Forget:
A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia
Elaine C. Pereira
Paperback: 274 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (May 3, 2012)
File Size: 501 KB
Print Length: 250 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: iUniverse (May 3, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
I Will Never Forget is the exquisite story of the author's talented mother's, Betty's, humorous and extraordinary journey through Dementia. Through entertaining glimpses of Elaine's childhood, from her controversial name, tales of smoking' dragons and the feisty teenage years, her mother’s wonderful character is revealed. But as their mother-daughter relationship evolves, the author begins to witness uncharacteristic verbal assaults, confusion and paranoia in her mom. As Betty slowly wanders farther down the dark and narrow corridors of Alzheimer's, her ability to mask the truth unravels as an incident over innocuous drapery rod suddenly launches a waterfall of events. Elaine witnesses her mother's masterful Houdini-like disappearances, stunning rally to take control of her own destiny and finally accompanies her mom as her brilliant mind is slowly destroyed by Dementia's insatiable appetite for brain cells.
I Will Never Forget is a heartwarming, powerful, deeply moving story pertinent to everyone, not just those peripherally pro intimately affected by Dementia.
Chapter 1: Christmas Clues and Catastrophes
It was a week before Christmas. The tree was in its usual beautiful splendor, although at eight years old, I definitely cared more about what was under the tree than on it. My dad was at work, my older brother Jerry was off somewhere with his friends, and Mom was in the basement doing laundry. With the spies out of the way, I seized the opportunity to investigate my presents.
I huddled under the tree in the back and pressed hard on the top of a box with my name on it. The tissue paper was white, maybe two or three layers thick. The box was light—wide but not very deep. I shook it, but the sounds were vague and did not reveal anything about its contents. Bummer! I tried to remember what I might have put on my Christmas list that could be in a box of this shape and size, but I was stumped. I had to take more serious steps to uncover the prize inside. I pressed down on the top of the box and tried to see if I could unveil any clues.
Something reddish blurred under my fingertips, but I couldn’t make anything out. I slid my finger slowly to the right and pressed down firmly again. This time, a bluish mark like an 1 or an I came through. I kept going to reveal green and yellow marks but nothing very helpful. Hmm. I went back to the red line on the left side and pressed down with the index fingers of both hands. Maybe doubling up would help. It was working, although the paper and box top were crinkling under the pressure of my fingertips. I kept pushing the paper out to the left and the right while also pushing down, and then there it was: an L. So I had an L and an 1 or an I; of course, it was an I. LI …, I pondered. Life! The game. Cool. It wasn’t on my list, but my mom had great gift ideas and I was sure it would be fun. So I had figured out one of the presents; now on to the next. Santa had nothing on me!
Subsequent Christmases weren’t much different as far as my being the present detective. Sometimes I figured out my brother Jerry’s gifts too, but I don’t think I ever told. I was not disappointed on those Christmas mornings that there were fewer surprises than there could have been. The compulsion to discover the mystery intrigued me and occupied some of my time during Christmas vacation. Unbeknownst to me, however, my mom was getting suspicious and had observed me clandestinely. She was a pretty good sleuth, too—like mother like daughter. She started to add weight, like a soup can, or sound, such as a box of paper clips, to the packages to throw me off. She was very ingenious.
Finally, one Christmas experience cured me of these Grinch-like investigations. It was Christmas 1962, when I was ten, that I set out on what would be my last mission to reveal gift secrets. One of the boxes under the tree especially attracted my curiosity. It was beautifully wrapped and shaped like a shoe box. I picked it up. It was very light. Certainly there were no soup cans in this box. It also made very little sound when I gently shook it, but I could detect a soft chime. I knew my mom was getting more creative with her packaging, so I wasn’t surprised that I was stumped initially.
Since I didn’t know that she was already wise to my antics, I didn’t realize that she was intentionally trying to trick me. Over the next couple of days, I became increasingly curious about this box. Nothing before had stymied me like this one. I really started to get annoyed and was determined to reveal its contents. The size and shape of the box did not yield any clues. The paper was not transparent enough to read through; in fact, it was heavy, not thin like tissue paper. My gentle shaking turned into rattling, and then I heard it—the unmistakable sound of broken glass. I had broken the gift! I was crushed, and so was the present.
I really didn’t know what to do next. If I told my mom, I would give away all of my mischievous secrets. If I didn’t tell her, then on Christmas morning I would open up a broken something and Mom would know that it hadn’t been broken when she wrapped it. I set the box down and walked away. I had to think. Finally I decided to fess up. I picked up the box from underneath the tree, carried it to my mom, and confessed the truth—well, sort of the truth. I confessed my version of the truth.
I told her I had been shaking the box gently, omitting the details of my vigorous rattling, and then had heard broken glass. She was very calm. As I discovered later, she had planted this gift to once and for all stop my present spying. But she did not reveal for several years that she had been wise to my antics for some time. The broken gift turned out to be an inexpensive, very lightweight Christmas ornament. I don’t remember what the wrapping paper looked like, but she had intentionally wrapped the box in that paper because she knew I would be attracted to it. Her hope was that I would be so curious about the featherweight box that I might possibly shake it until the gift broke.
Her plan worked. I had done exactly what she thought I would. Did she really know me that well? I should never have underestimated her—not then and not later. By the time she revealed her hand and told me of her scheme, I was an adult. She enjoyed her well-deserved moment of triumph retelling the story from her point of view.
Mom made Christmas magical, festive, and fun for our family. Some of the creative enjoyment evolved slowly over the years. She starting putting generic clues on certain gifts, like, “Keep Warm” on a sweater or box of socks or “Yum,” which usually adorned goodies like chocolate. They were vague but cute. Gradually her proliferation of tags evolved into clue masterpieces, especially when I was a mom and reintroduced the tradition to my family. Each creative “word of art” could take hours to draft. The clues often rhymed, and they were truthful but intentionally very misleading. Sometimes the clues launched treasure hunts, taking the gift recipient all over the house before revealing the present, usually because it was too cumbersome to wrap. Nothing was off limits. We used Scrabble-like clues and made-up crossword puzzles. We did it all and did it masterfully. Our trademark shenanigans persisted for years, tapering off only for the faint of heart who married into our crazy Christmas clue family.
My mom arrived at our house in New Boston, in southeastern Michigan, by sedan limo from her place in Kalamazoo, about two hours west. It was December 23, two days before Christmas. I would have been willing to drive both ways to pick her up and return her home, but she had been insisting for years that it took too much time away from our holiday preparations. She had stopped driving, sort of voluntarily but after lots of drama, in the fall of 2009. Mom had flown over on a few occasions at Christmastime but had experienced flight delays and cancellations. Even if flying had been uneventful for her, Mom was no longer able to handle the chaos of airport travel.
My husband, Joe, had recommended that we try a sedan service in lieu of flying. It was a great idea—perfect, in fact. I wish I had thought of it. It was so much better than the airlines and about the same cost. They were prompt and carried cell phones. For as flawless as this arrangement seemed to us, for some reason my mom grumbled about traveling by limo and sitting in the backseat.
“They’re supposed to chauffer you,” my husband had explained to her with a chuckle. “In a cab, you sit in the back and enjoy the ride over.”
She grunted, but strangely she had also started to ramble sometimes about taking a cab to Grand Rapids, an hour north of Kalamazoo, and picking up a flight there.
“Grand Rapids is a bigger airport than podunk Kalamazoo, so maybe their flights won’t be canceled,” she argued.
My mom used a lot of words like podunk, as well as one-liners, quotes, and proverbs for everything. Joe and I both tried to understand her clearly flawed thinking.
“Mom, it would take more time and more money—the cost of the cab and a flight—plus it would take you at least four hours instead of two. Why would you take a cab to Grand Rapids for one hour when you could be halfway to our house?”
She had no logical response because there wasn’t one. I couldn’t seem to get through to her. Her reasoning, or lack of it, actually, puzzled me. I had been noticing intermittent memory issues, flawed judgment, and strange remarks for some time. Then, at other times, she was spot on. I avoided any further confrontation about her goofy cab/flight plan. When she said she would “look into it,” I just said, “Okay. Let me know what you find out.” She never did.
My stepson, Chris; his wife, Ali; and our newest grandchild, Mia, then eleven weeks old, were also coming for the holidays. My daughter Angie and her husband, Ryan, were visiting her in-laws in Traverse City in northern Michigan. My other daughter, Christie; son-in–law, Chris; and twenty-one-month-old grandson, Isaac, would also be celebrating the holidays with us, making for a festive and fun family group.
My mom was planning to stay at my house for three nights, December 23—26. The first clue that things were a little amiss was when I saw her rummaging through her suitcase. She was “looking for something” but couldn’t tell me what. I saw that she had packed six bras and maybe eight pair of underwear but no extra socks. No problem, I figured. She can borrow some of mine. Okay, so she was a little off on the undies. Also, she had pajamas but no robe. Robes, especially winter ones, were a little bulky to pack, so I loaned one to her, as well as some extra socks.
Then I noticed that her sweater was uncharacteristically dirty. At first I assumed it was stained permanently, but as I scratched my finger over the discolored streak, I realized something brownish was sloughing off in my hand—chocolate.
“Mom,” I said gently, “this is a little dirty. Maybe I can wash it for you?”
“Sure. You can do my laundry anytime,” she answered.
As the designated laundry fairy, I was on a mission to search for and rescue her dirty clothes. The slacks she was wearing were soiled too. This is so not my mom, I thought. She was a meticulous dresser and never would have gone anywhere with grubby clothes except out in the yard. I organized a laundry coup and started snatching her pants and sweater after she got ready for bed.
A week earlier, I had actually e-mailed her a checklist of what to pack, but she claimed that she couldn’t print from the computer center at Friendship Village because “it’s their paper.” My parents had moved into Friendship Village, a senior independent-living facility, in 1999. I had suspected for some time that the problem was that she couldn’t remember how to print or even to print, rather than a lack of permission to use the paper. I had even bought her a package of printing paper to use as she needed since she had mentioned this issue before. Packing for a short trip to my house was not a new experience for her, nor a difficult one, but clearly she had made several errors. It would not be long before I would be impressed that she had done this well rather than this poorly.
Christmas Day was delightful with bubbly, twenty-one-month-old Isaac ripping paper off the presents and sticking bows on his shirt, plus it was our first opportunity to meet eleven-week-old baby Mia.
My mom was a very generous person but had stopped shopping some time before, so Joe and I weren’t expecting to have anything to open, nor was it necessary. Typically she wrote checks for her granddaughters and either mailed them before the holidays or handed them out in person if she was going to see them. She usually gave checks to Joe and me as well.
After dinner and dessert, we gathered back in the living room on Christmas evening. My mom was sitting on the couch next to her granddaughter Christie. Mom was rifling through her purse like she had done with her suitcase, “looking for something” that she couldn’t identify. I watched her somewhat disorganized and purposeless searching. She took her wallet out and then put it back in. She took it out again, set it in her lap, and then drove her hand back into the black purse like a child grabbing for a handful of candy. Next, she took out her checkbook, opened it, stared at it, and put it back in her purse. When she took out a clearly used Kleenex and put it back in, I walked over to intervene.
“How are you doing, Mom? Have you had a nice day?” I asked. “I’m glad you’re here with us.” I carefully confiscated the dirty tissue and cupped it in my hand to dispose of later.
“I’m looking for my checkbook,” she said. “I can’t find it.” She was definitely frustrated and moving her hands more quickly but randomly.
“I think it’s in your purse. Is that it?” I offered as I pointed directly at the edge of her lavender checkbook cover embossed with Garfield and Odie.
She didn’t answer me as she removed it for a second time and opened it up. I noticed that there were two checkbook packs but no check register. I sat on the armrest of the couch while she ruffled through the pages so I could see clearly.
“Did you send a check to Angie this year? I know you don’t really shop much anymore.”
“Yes. Well, no. I don’t think so. I’m going to.” Her reply was choppy. “I didn’t write one for you and Joe either.”
“You don’t have to give us a check, Mom. We’re just glad you came,” I said as she pulled out a pen and attempted to start writing a check to us anyway.
“What’s the date?” she asked, seriously unable to recall it. I suppressed an inappropriate chuckle.
“December 25,” I answered.
She smiled as she looked up at me and said sheepishly, “Of course,” as she shook her head.
Well, I thought, at least that piece is intact.
Chris was going to put Isaac to bed, so the little guy made the rounds, doling out hugs and kisses. Ali had already taken baby Mia upstairs. Meanwhile, my mom had managed to finish writing a check to Joe and me and handed it to me. It was for fifty-five dollars. What a strange amount, I thought, but I thanked her anyway of course. It was painful to watch. I tried to help her by asking questions, hoping I could really do something purposeful.
“Did you send a check to Angie?” I asked again. I knew she had not given one to Christie and Chris so far, so I suspected that she had not mailed one out to Angie either.
“No. I don’t think so. Not yet.”
Christie was watching her grandmother as intently as I was. Mom had pulled a blank Christmas card from her purse. I thought it was fortuitous that she had planned ahead to bring cards. She tried over and over to address the card with Christie’s name. First, she spelled it with a K. She scratched that out and wrote it with a y ending rather than an ie. I could see Christie’s furled brow and soft pout reflect how sad she felt inside to see her grandma struggling. I rested my chin in my hand, fanned my fingers apart to camouflage my own facial expressions of disappointment. Mom put the card down and stared at her checkbook, poring over it as if she was hoping for some inspiration and direction on what to do next. She apparently attempted to write numbers, but they were indecipherable, resembling random scratch marks. I wanted to do something to help her, but my previous offers had been ignored and I didn’t want to frustrate her more.
Then Mom turned her head and looked at me with a very tense expression on her face. She said she couldn’t think and needed to “figure it out.” From there, she went upstairs. I waited about a half hour before I went up to see how she was doing. She had Christmas cards out—one labeled “Joe and Elaine,” one labeled “Angie” but without her husband’s name—and was attempting to write another one to Christie as I slowly walked in. She had written another check to us for 150 dollars and checks with odd amounts for the girls. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just offered to help if she wanted me to. This time she accepted gratefully, and together we finished the two checks to her granddaughters and the remaining cards.
I didn’t realize I was still holding the fifty-five dollar check in my hand. She saw it, took it, stared at the amount, and said, “Did I write this? What a strange amount. What was I thinking?”
I didn’t know, but I certainly wanted to. Cautiously, I asked, “Would you like me to look through your checkbook? Maybe I could help straighten it out a little?”
Her previously stressed expression melted away as she smiled and looked up at me, almost with puppy-dog eyes, and said “Yes. I would like that.”
It was a disaster. There was no ledger. She had two check packets with checks missing out of sequence. Clearly she could not manage her banking anymore. With yet another brilliant idea from my husband, I took over all of the bills and the existing account. We opened a second one for her so she could preserve some financial autonomy. She wrote out only a smattering of checks to Saint Augustine’s Church and a few other people, though, before more signs of trouble were apparent. The second account would not be open for long.
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