Ask anyone who has a family member afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease and they will tell you that it is easy to ignore. There are so many grandchildren that it is no wonder that Mom can't remember their birthdays. Hasn't Dad always been misplacing his car keys? The excuses flow easily, like water sliding down a fountain. It is easy to ignore the signs, to get too comfortable. And then something happens that stops the water from flowing freely. Before you know it all you have are small dribbles splashing heavily on the hard metal surface of the fountain, hitting the slick expanse and quickly bouncing away. Fleeting.
This is how I feel with my mother. Most of our visits are pleasant - she plays with Matthew and offers me parenting advice. She tells me about her days and her latest trip to the Wal-Mart just up the street. Sometimes we talk about my sister, or the Wii bowling league she plays in three times a week. We fade in and out of my mother's life, fitting in to the empty spaces of her days, between bowling and bus trips to Wal-Mart. In a way, I suppose, this is a glimpse of our future relationship, when we truly will be fading in and out of her memory.
Last Saturday the water stopped flowing freely and began falling in little drips, landing hard and drilling into the flimsy facade of my patience. I suppose, though, that the story started much earlier than Saturday. Seven days earlier, to be exact.
It was the Saturday night before last and I was running late. I was trying to get out of the house and on my way to our small group meeting. We belong to a small group through our church, and once a month the five couples in our group get together for dinner and study. This month Brad was staying behind with Matthew due to baby sitter problems. I was racing out the door because earlier that day my mother had called with another "list". My mother has always been a list maker. I am too. I love love love my lists. But now my mother makes the same lists, over and over, each just slightly different than the one before. People with Alzheimer's Disease often get "stuck" on an idea or an action, and my mother is no exception. Even though her disease is in the very early stages she still has found her "stickiness". My mother fills notepad after notepad with writing. She records what clothes have gone to the laundry, and what time her apartment was cleaned. She makes a note of something of interest she saw on tv. And she makes shopping lists. Her needs are seemingly endless. These notes and lists do her no good, however, seeing as by the time she stumbles back across them she cannot remember why she made the note. "What was so interesting about that show that I wrote it down?", she will wonder aloud to me. "Why do I have three shopping lists?"
Often I ignore the lists she gives me, knowing that she already has four bottles of shampoo and eleven rolls of toilet paper. On this particular Saturday, though, I knew her needs were real, so I was trying to get out of the house in enough time to run to the store, fill her list, and drop it off to her before my small group. As I was loading the car at home I realized I had the only set of keys to our other car. Not wanting to leave my boys home alone without transportation, I flew back in the house and practically flung the keys at my husband. I had no idea I might never see those keys again...
Move ahead to Monday morning. Usually Monday is an office day for me, affording me the luxury of staying in my pajamas through breakfast and actually having the time to wipe the toast crumbs off the table before my crazy day begins. On this Monday, however, I had to drag myself out of bed with the rest of the family, knowing that I had to leave the house with everyone else that morning. After kissing my boys goodbye I began gathering my belongings, my briefcase, my phones, my planner. I had everything I needed for a day on the road. Everything except my keys. A quick search of the kitchen, my purse, all the coat pockets in the closet and all the jean pockets on the floor of the bedroom turned up nothing. As the week wore on the search became more and more hysterical. We were in full search mode. Who only has one set of keys to their car? Who has to rent a car, for an entire week, just to get to work? If it wasn't happening to me, I wouldn't believe it.
These days, car keys aren't so easy to replace. How old do I sound? "Back in my day, it was easy to break into a car and get a new key made." Now you have to have proof you own the car, and proof of insurance. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast. I don't own the car. It is my mother's car, her pride and joy. And just like so many other items I have needed from my mother over the past eight months that she has managed to misplace, the car title and registration were no exception. I stopped by my mother's place on Thursday evening to explain the situation and lay out the plan to replace the paperwork and the keys.
When I showed up two days later bright and early on Saturday morning my mom was genuinely surprised to see me. "What are you doing here", she asked. "I told you we needed to replace the car title today.", I explained. "You said we needed to do that, but you didn't say it would be today.", she rebounded. "I didn't? Gee, I am sure I mentioned it as I wrote it down on your calendar and watched you make a note of it on your notepad." And no, I did not say that last bit out loud. Some things are just not worth it. Twenty minutes later, after the big lipstick search was over, I finally drag my mother out to the car. "Why did you bring this car?", she asks me, as she pulls herself up into our Equinox. "Why didn't you bring my car?" I take a deep breath and calmly remind her that we can't drive her car, because we have no keys. This is going to be a long day.