I went to pay my mom a visit just recently. I live in North Carolina and my mom lives in Georgia about seven hours away. I am self-employed, which makes it tough for me to drop everything and get away. And though I talk to her regularly on the phone, it had been over a year since I had seen my mom. Since the last time I saw her she had suffered a stroke and been diagnosed with dementia. In fact, I called her one day about six months ago, and noticed that her speech was slurred, which made her quite difficult to understand. It just so happens that my sister was there visiting, and I asked her if she noticed her slurred speech. She said that she did, and that she and my eldest brother who lives just adjacent to mom had taken her to the doctor to see what the problem was. The doctor at the time told them it was probably due to some type of infection. But having known stroke victims myself, I assured my siblings that I did not think it was an infection, but was without a doubt a stroke. Well, many doctors’ visits and, from my point of view, needless tests later, her doctors concluded that it was a stroke.
My mom has never been a very large person. I remember as a child that she was always pretty health-conscious, tried to watch her weight and so forth. And she stands about five-foot nothing. But when I walked into her apartment and saw my mom, I was slightly shocked. The same big smile was there, but a lot of mom was not. She was really thin and frail, and now because the stroke left her weak on one side, she uses a cane to assist with her balance. But she stays in pretty good spirits most of the time. She has never said “why me,” even after the loss of four of her children in a span of about 12 years, and then the loss of my dad suddenly a couple of years ago. And I’m not a doctor of course, but I honestly believe that the deaths of her children impacted her emotionally, especially the death of her youngest, and may have contributed to her dementia.
Now as you may know, if you are familiar with the effects of dementia, one of the problems it causes is short-term memory loss. And even before her official diagnosis, we knew she was having some memory problems. But my last visit before my most recent one, she would ask me a question that I had just answered a couple of minutes ago. And at times, we would have repeats of whole conversations. What’s sad right now is that she realizes what is happening to her, and she at times apologizes for it. But I love my mom dearly, so I would never say “Mama, we just had this conversation, don’t you remember” ? I try to remember that when I was a kid, I was awfully forgetful (sometimes selectively so) and she would sternly at times, but lovingly, repeat herself until I got it right.
It hurts me to see this woman who raised me and taught me so many things have to suffer the indignities that this disease is bringing upon her. As I write this article and think of my mom, my eyes fill with tears. But I know, as she taught us all, that one day soon dementia and all of the other things that cause us pain and sorrow will be gone. So the next time I speak with my dear mom, I’ll thank her for giving me this legacy of love, hope and faith. And even though I know, that one day she may forget that I’m her son, I hope I never forget that she’s my mom.