A couple years ago I entered an Essay contest for MORE magazine. The topic was “Transitions” and how you have navigated through them in your life. At the time all I could think of was how I moved back East to care for my sick mother. This is the essay. Wanted to share.
January 23, 2010
As I pulled into Mom’s driveway, after my five day cross-country drive from sunny San Diego, I realized that I was entering into my old neighborhood of wearied Wayne, PA. The memory of my ocean view apartment in Encinitas was as faint as the cold and crisp reality of yet another new passage in my life. Full circle.
After spending over 10 years in San Diego, coming back home was bittersweet. I was about to experience some of the bitter. Walking into mom’s house, with Lucy, my 4 year old boxer wagging and sniffing behind me, the sight of Mom startled me. I hadn’t seen her in almost 9 months and her decline was apparent. Her hair was messy, her clothes dirty and bland, and her makeup – well, there wasn’t much to speak of. Before Mom got sick, she had a closet full of designer clothes and took immaculate care in her appearance.
Mom was diagnosed with FTD dementia 6 months earlier and my siblings and I thought it’d be best for me to end my 10 year hiatus in San Diego and move in with her until we could figure out what to do. Little did I know that Mom was as lucid that day as I would ever see her.
One week after our arrival Lucy was able to experience her first snowfall. Snowmageddon had arrived dumping over two feet of snow. Grateful that Mom lived in a condominium with no snow shoveling on the agenda, Lucy and I were able to enjoy the fluffy white stuff; if only as a respite from being housed with Mom. Since my arrival I tried to re-immerse myself into life with my family and friends, as well as starting a job search as I had been out of work for over 11 months due to the recession of 2008. The job hunt was going well and within two weeks I had some interviews lined up. Through mutual friends I had also met someone. He was the kind of guy I swore I’d never go out with; recently divorced, three kids and newly sober. He was under a year sober and I didn’t think it’d be smart to date him until he had some more sober time. Additionally, I was apprehensive and nervous about introducing him to Mom.
Mom was becoming more and more challenging to be around. Taking her out in public was more difficult as she would become very defiant if she wanted something. If you were at the food store she always had to have her normal check out lady at Genuardi’s, in addition to getting her dark chocolate and gum. Mom ate a new piece of gum every 45 minutes. And she would tell you that too. I sometimes felt I had my own personal Rain Main. She would call a basic item, such as a fork a thingy majingy because she couldn’t remember what it was called. This was all part of her disease. As I understood FTD dementia, it affected the front right temporal lobe of her brain. There was a dark spot on her brain and it would continue to get darker and darker as the disease progressed. The best visual for me to understand this was that it was like a big mushroom that was mushrooming over her brain by simultaneously affecting her decision-making, behavioral control, emotions and language. My mom was slipping away from me before my very eyes.
Within a couple months I was able to land my dream job – Senior Associate at Korn/Ferry International in Philadelphia. Working for the number one company in my industry was a big coup for me as I was used to working for smaller firms in San Diego. I felt like I had hit the Trifecta – I was able to be present and loving for my Mom, I was dating a pretty fabulous guy and I landed a sweet gig. Pretty good for someone who drove cross country crying from San Diego to Arizona not wanting to come home. The man upstairs was orchestrating my life for me and I was able to relish in the symphony.
As Mom’s disease progressed, Mom became very lovingand liked to kiss everyone and regal us with stories about her childhood and early adulthood. Certain stories I had never even heard before, so it was all very eye-opening to me. I was taken aback sometimes with some of her questions. Two months into dating Liam, she kept asking me, “Do you think you’ll marry Liam?” “Do you and Liam have sex? How many times a week?” So yes, very eye-opening, to say the least. I would chuckle though and call my sister, “Can I tell you what Mom is asking me about now?” When I’d relay it to her, she’d reply back, “Oh she asked me the same thing last week, but it was at her monthly lunch gathering with her Bridge Club friends!” Luckily for me my Q&As weren’t as publicly embarrassing.
By the time summer came around, my career was in full swing, Liam and I were planning on moving in together, and it was time to move Mom into an Assisted Living facility. One evening after I came home from work, I found Mom in her bed watching TV. Albeit it was around 6 pm, she was wearing the same pajamas for the past two days. I came into her room and she was very excited to see me. “Hi honey bunch!” It didn’t seem like she had showered recently. I had felt her toothbrush and it was bone dry. When I walked into her bathroom there was feces everywhere – on the wall, the floor and smeared all over the toilet. When I had asked her what happened, she replied, “Oh yeah I have that thingy.” I replied back to her, “Mom, there is poop all over your bathroom. What happened?” She gave me a blank stare, “Oh its fine, its fine.” I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t fine. I then called my siblings, Eddie and Janet, and shared what had happened. A month later we moved Mom into Sunrise in Paoli. I moved into an apartment with Liam one mile away. We knew this was the beginning of the end. What we didn’t know was how long Mom would be there for? How much worse will this disease progress? How long until she doesn’t know our names anymore? How much more time do we have with her? These questions swirled around my head daily like a marble circling a salad bowl, around and around.
It was close to midnight and my husband Liam and I were sound asleep. Janet entered our home, “Nance, Liam, It’s me.” Dazed and confused, we awoke to see my sister standing in our bedroom doorway; her silhouette is all I could see. All I could hear “Mom died, she’s dead.” I burst into tears.
Mom passed away due to heart failure. She was 69, I was 45 and grateful that I moved back home for her. And for me.