Coping with a Parent Living with Alzheimer’s Disease
Today’s Freestyle Fridays guest post is a conversation with my friend Jeannie. Her parents are about to embark on a journey back to Colombia but this time because her mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s and they seek a better life. Jeannie is a friend and an amazing writer; she is working on a YA novel based on her childhood and maintains a blog, A Writer’s Cup.
Me: The idea of your dad taking your mom back to Colombia for better care in the spirit of their adventurous marriage really warms my heart and makes me tear up. True love is so inspirational and they seem to have it.
Jeannie: Yes, my best self agrees completely. But the child inside, the one who will greatly miss the touch of my mother’s hand and her still-strong hugs, is the one who thinks the whole idea is very, very bad. One of my brothers is a chaplain, and I told him my biggest fear is that when we say goodbye on March 2nd it will be the last time she will remember my name. He sighed and said, “Jeannie, she’s going to forget you.” It made me realize that will be true no matter where she lives.
Me: When was your mom diagnosed with Alzheimer’s?
Jeannie: Her Alzheimer’s came on suddenly, on May 17, 2012, when she didn’t recognize my dad, and wanted him to leave the house. Now she knows who he is most of the time, but she has very limited short-term memory. I miss our conversations most – the laughter about some crazy situation my dad has gotten into – but we’ve been able to stay connected. We talk about the weather, the room we’re in, the food. She’s from Oklahoma, and we love to sing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical. I’m so grateful Mom always has a smile on her face, even though it must be awful for her world to be so incomprehensible. Dad had to put Mom in a nursing home this past summer because she kept falling. It’s a nice place, but they prefer my dad leave around 2 o’clock each day.
Me: I can’t imagine the pain your dad must feel leaving her every afternoon. Will they live together again or will she be in a nursing home in Colombia?
Jeannie: My Dad and one brother went to Cali a few months back to see where my parents could live, and they found an assisted living arrangement where Mom and Dad can live together again. The place is near some of Dad’s friends, the healthcare will be fine, and it’s much less expensive!
Me: I’m glad they’ve been close enough for you to visit, but I know you must be tired from traveling back and forth so often to see them. How far away do they live?
Jeannie: They are in Montgomery, Alabama, a three-hour drive from here. They’ve lived there for the past 15 years. Before that, they were Baptist missionaries to Colombia for 30 years. I grew up there, from age 2 to 17, and returned for visits up until their move to the States.
Me: Their move to Colombia seems like a big deal. How are you handling all of this, Jeannie?
Jeannie: I was pretty heartbroken at the thought of them moving so far away, but I turned a corner when I realized I would get to share pandebono, delicious cheese bread, with my husband and two daughters when we visit my parents in Colombia.
Me: So you’ll visit your parents once they get settled back in Colombia…for the bread? Haha! What a great way to revisit your childhood and maybe your kids can see where you grew up!
Jeannie: Yes! I think people who grow up overseas have a hard time sharing their culture with their American families. It’s almost like we have to close off a part of ourselves. With the pandebono I realized I will finally get to share my childhood with my family. My girls will see with childlike eyes what I saw, and that’s so exciting! I’m also looking forward to meeting up with school friends, seeing the amazing Andes mountains, and being in my beautiful vibrant city again.
I haven’t traveled overseas with my blond, blue-eyed daughters, though, and the thought of taking them to South America terrified me. Then I remembered my parents did the same thing when my brothers and I were ages 2, 4, 5, and 7. Compared to that, taking a 13- and 16-year-old will be a breeze!
Me: Your parents were really brave.
Jeannie: Yes, and committed to their beliefs. But my parents have always put their lives in God’s hands, and that hasn’t changed just because they are now in their 80’s. Dad told me he prayed that if this wasn’t the right thing to do, he wanted God to block the process. But the process has only been smooth and easy, so my brothers and I have to trust that it’s meant to be. It’s God’s will for Dad and Mom; it’s their fate.
Me: I know you said you couldn’t meet for writing group on the 2nd because of a big family send-off party for your parents. Tell me about that.
Jeannie: This party came about because I found my cousin Larry’s phone number and called him to tell him about my mom. I expected him to simply give my mom a call, but Larry said he wanted to see my parents before they left for Colombia, and he’s already booked a flight from Colorado to Atlanta for the big sendoff. I wasn’t planning to go to the airport on that sad day, but when Larry turned the event into a party, how could I not? Now my three brothers and their families will be there too, and we’ll take over the Airport Hilton and have fun until we watch them walk through the security gates. And although I worry I might fall apart when I wave Mom and Dad off, at least I know I’ll be surrounded by family.
It may seem a little late for my parents to start a new chapter in their lives, but they have never been known to play it safe. They are still teaching me to not be afraid of living life to the fullest.
Me: Well, bon voyage to your parents and good luck to you, Jeannie! I look forward to hearing how everything turns out. You’ll be in my thoughts at the sendoff, I’m sure you’ll feel some relief.
Jeannie: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share my crazy story with you and your readers. And I’d love to hear from anyone whose aging parents have retired to a foreign country. I’m sure I’m not alone!
Thank YOU, Jeannie, it was such a pleasure working with you on this. I wish I could meet all of my guest posting bloggers at the park with coffee to chat!! 🙂 If ANYONE would like to guest post on Freestyle Fridays, I would love to have you. I really enjoy sharing other people’s stories. Contact me here. Thank you. xo