Living with Alzheimer’s means life is unpredictable. Things that used to be second nature to your loved one—routines and schedules, even basics like getting dressed and eating meals and going to the bathroom—are forgotten. They’re lost slowly or quickly, for now and then or forever, but lost to the point that life becomes as unpredictable for you, the caregiver, as it is for your loved one.
What is certain is that we aren’t alone. So we can manage, even the unpredictable.
When it comes to dealing with Mom, Dad and I don’t know what to expect any more. Will she wake up happy or angry? Will she be able to go to the bathroom and dress on her own or will she need help? If she needs help will she accept it or refuse it?
The answers to those questions carry special weight this morning. Mom has an appointment with the doctor today. Dad and I will get information today. We’ll find out how to help Mom today.
If she agrees to go.
I wasn’t here the day of Mom’s last appointment, but things were predictable then. It’s likely she had the appointment scheduled early so she and Dad could go to breakfast afterwards. Of course Mom would have bathed, probably the night before. She probably went through the normal exam sequence without complaint, allowing the nurse to get her blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and weight. I can imagine her sitting calmly while the doctor listened to her chest and told her, as he surely did every visit, to stop smoking. I can picture him asking about her medications for cholesterol and high blood pressure—they were having the desired results, but were they causing her any difficulty? “No, no,” she probably said. “They’re fine.” Some smiling and shaking hands would have ended the visit, and Mom and Dad would have stopped by the desk to make another appointment for the next year.
But today isn’t a year later; it’s just over six months. Yet, so much has changed. Mom refused to bathe last night. She woke later than usual so there’s no time for a bath this morning. She comes into the kitchen wearing what she wore yesterday: black slacks, decorated with a bit of catsup from dinner, and a wrinkled red t-shirt.
“Honey, I know you don’t have time for a bath,” Dad tells her, “but at least you want to put on clean clothes, right?”
Mom’s face darkens like a cloud heavy with rain. “No, I want to wear these clothes.” She walks to her chair at the table and sits. “That’s why I put them on.”
I stifle Dad’s complaint with a don’t-make-waves look and a tap to the face of my watch.
But we’re already tossed by rough water. I give Mom her hair brush; she drops it on the floor. I fetch her tennis shoes from the bedroom, but no, she wants the green ones. I ask if she’s hungry and get no response at all.
Since she’s making no move to put on the shoes, I bend down to do it for her. “Well, I am!” I say. “I’m hungrier than a dog that hasn’t eaten in a thousand years.” The expression is one my sister and I made up back when we were growing up in this house. It earns me a smile from Mom. I feel like a first-grader with a gold star on my homework.
Mom’s still smiling as we drive to the doctor’s office. Dad is silent, his knuckles white against the steering wheel. Me? I’m praying. Surely the doctor will see how drastically Mom has changed in six months.
He must see, Lord. Please help him see. Help him help us.
In these days when nothing is predictable, thank You, Father, for the certainty of Your care. I know we can rely on You to guide us through the present darkness. You can move reluctant feet toward healing. You can draw sad hearts to hope. You can bring new smiles to faces made hard by confusion and fear. Thank You, Lord, for loving us forward.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord….for with the Lord is unfailing love.” (Ps. 130:5-6, 7)