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Notes on my mother, who has Alzheimer's disease

I am accustomed now to having a mother with Alzheimer’s. I am accustomed to not having a mother on whom I can depend, in whom I may confide, with whom I may simply converse. And when I think of how accustomed I am, my heart breaks all over again. It is a constant ebb and flow, a constant healing and breaking again like the ocean.

I feel so much wiser and I feel so much sadder. And it’s lonely.

***

I started this essay in October of 2013. It has now been three years since my mother was first diagnosed, although it feels closer to ten. My mother has lost so much of her vocabulary and short-term memory that a conversation with her is now a couple of oftentimes nonsensical sentences on loop. Her gait is a tiny shuffle and the extreme difficulty with which she rises from sitting comes not from any physical ailment, but from the difficulty her mind has wrapping around even the simple shift in bearing we all take for granted. She lives in an assisted living home now with around-the-clock care, and she is happy with all the safeness and predictability that provides. The worse her illness has gotten, the quieter her once haphazard mind has become, and I can almost see the sense of peace and simple joy that has descended upon her like a cozy blanket or a fresh layer of powdered snow.

It is a blessing of unspeakable depth that my mother is happy. I am so massively, overwhelmingly grateful for this simple truth that I am unable to even think of the words without melting into tears of exhausted relief. I would never have guessed that feeling fortunate could hurt just as much as feeling loss, and could be equal parts awful and sublime. The sheer depth of my gratitude feels almost transcendent to me; if I had been raised differently, I might think that I was feeling God.

As things stand, I was raised by academics. As things stand, I am simply bowled over by the immense beauty that is the heart’s capacity to feel so much: so much pain and so much love and so much anger and gratitude and strength and vulnerability. It is a wonder that we are able to walk about in the world with such a capacity inside of us.

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