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Notes on my mother, who has Alzheimer's disease

I can see the Alzheimer’s progressing. My mother forgets words more and more frequently. Words like “ring” and “grapes” and “cats” (she has taken to referring to my cats as “those big things at Becky’s apartment,” which she pairs with a hand gesture that is more suggestive of spider legs or jelly fish than of anything related to a cat). She can barely read at all, and doesn’t remember anything she’s read almost immediately after she has read it, but she does like to sit with a book from time to time. She likes to feel the pages in her hands and she still reads the newspaper every day, albeit all day long because each time it is new.

She still has a vague but passionate sense of the news and politics and loves discussing them; little makes her happier than talking about how awful the Republicans or George Zimmerman are. There is a part of her still attached to the academic side of herself, although she is not aware of it. But she has not even opened the door to her office—the door that leads to walls covered in shelves holding book after book after book, including some of her own, and folders haphazardly splayed across the room full of documents and notes scribbled in foreign languages—in at least a year. Every time I visit her and walk down that hall, I see that door so poignantly, so utterly closed. That part of her mind is simply gone.

One night, my mother fell down the stairs and I ran to her. I held her like a mother holds a child and asked again and again if she was OK. I clutched her to me and rocked her. I felt completely responsible for her and more protective of her than I have ever felt of anyone; just the very idea of her being in pain cut through me. I would do anything to make it better. I would do anything to make my mother better. I would even give her up as my mother if it meant she would be living her life as herself, even if it was without me, even if it was somewhere where I could not see her. I would do anything.

I try to appreciate her for who she is now, to appreciate the gentleness and the unabridged and uncomplicated love she has to offer, but knowing and feeling that I’ve lost her, there are times when I believe I would prefer that she hurl all of that past abuse at me all at once if it meant having her back with me now. If it meant that she would have her brilliant, glorious mind back and that I could look at her again and know that nobody, nobody on this earth knows me better than this woman, that this is the one person who can take all the screaming fights that we can readily invoke—and therefore see the absolute worst that my person has to offer—and will still love me and love me ferociously.

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