BJ Gallagher shares the first of a two-part series reflecting on the Gifts and Blessings of Alzheimer’s based on her experiences with her mother.
The spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” That’s how I feel about my role as caregiver. I’m just walking my mother home.
She is about twelve years in to her Alzheimer’s journey now and along the way, and we have discovered many gifts and blessings:
The Blessing of Selective Memory
Remarkably, Alzheimer’s erased all my mother’s unhappy memories, resentments, and long-held grudges. When I ask, “Remember your sister Eloise?” she nods and answers, “Oh yes, she’s as sharp as a tack.” She’s completely forgotten that she and her sister didn’t speak for decades – both women nursing grudges held since childhood.
When I ask about Dad: “How about my dad, Ken Gallagher? Remember him?” “Oh yes,” she smiles. “We traveled all over the world. We met the queen!” Gone are the bitter memories of their divorce 40 years ago, with the ugly, protracted legal and financial battle they waged. I heard her complain about that divorce for at least three decades – but now, not a hint of resentment.
Today Mom has nary a bad word to say about anyone – her ex, her siblings, her parents, or neighbors and friends who hurt her feelings. What a blessing to have all those unhappy memories, old resentments, and negative feelings completely wiped away – leaving only warm, happy, joyful memories in their place.
The Gift of Laughter
I don’t recall my mother being particularly funny before she got sick – but she’s sure funny now. One day last week, I arrived to feed her lunch and asked, “Hi Ma, how do you feel?” “With my hands,” she said.
A couple weeks ago, I picked up her glass of juice and put the drinking straw in her mouth. But instead of sucking on the straw, she blew into it, making the juice bubble over all over the place. I shrieked “Ack!” at the surprise … and she laughed so hard she had tears rolling down her cheeks. My mother, the prankster.
Sometimes she’ll get really quiet, leading me to think she’s drifted off into her own world. Then suddenly she’ll say, “Boo!” If she succeeds in starling me she flashes a big grin – quite pleased with herself for shaking things up.
My mother, it seems, has become quite the entertainer!
BJ GALLAGHER is a Los Angeles author whose books include: “Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me?” (Berkley/Penguin) and “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women” (Conari Press) and “Oil for Your Lamp: Women Taking Care of Themselves” (Simple Truths). www.bjgallagher.com