How do you tell someone that your parent has Alzheimer’s?
I do not have the answer. But I do have some experience in this realm. There have been times I’ve just blurted it out. In the midst of the story I’m telling a friend-of-a-friend at a bar, I suddenly realize the next statement won’t make sense unless I divulge.
On the flip side, I’ve also held back. It can be in a grocery store or walking downtown. Worst of all, I see someone I’ve known for ages interact with my Mom, clueless of her new state.
In writing and in improv, we often hear the advice “start in the middle”. Jump right into the story. Capture your audience by bringing them into the action, not just the set-up.
This is the middle part. It’s painful. It’s raw, it’s vulnerable. Frustratingly, the mid-stage is not who my mother was before. And whomever it is, I so long for them to have known her pre-illness. She is so much more. She’s a role model, a pioneer working woman, a skier, an adventurer, a world traveler, a tutor, a faithful believer, a sister, a friend. My Mother.
She’s the one who went before me. Who blazed the trail from which I reap bountifully. To live in a time of fuller gender equity, my Mom fought for that. To care for others by creating community, listening to their stories, and working for change, my Mom is a living example.
And yet, this current path, it was once her’s too. A twenty something trying to find her way, while watching her mother loose her own. My mother, my guide, cannot lead me on this crucial journey. The one I most need her on. The one I suspect that she struggled the most with.
- “How do you tell someone that your parent has Alzheimer’s?” I wish to ask, and can’t.
There is no rubric, no guide to how to best do this.
This awkward truth is omnipresent. It’s on a date, it’s having coffee with a new friend, it’s seeing an old acquaintance at a reunion. The “how are you” and the “tell me about yourself” tend not to lend to the deep reveal: my loved one has a degenerative disease.
That’s the irony of this terrible illness: where our loved ones might forget us, we can not forget that they have this disease. If only we could seek out that bridge of sharing their history and honoring them, while providing the dignity and respect they deserve in the present moment. If only there was that way to join the past, their wonderful mark on our lives, with the new people of our future.
If only.* If you are so compelled, please consider donating to the Alzheimer’s Association.