Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Mom and Alzheimer's- Forever Grateful for Just ONE Moment

Me and my mama, Jacqueline Joslin Sellers.
In this photo, my mom is 39, the age I am now.

I had a "normal" mother for the first 30 years of my life. But by my wedding date, she was no longer the mom I knew.

My mother has Alzheimer's Disease.

When I finally became a mother at the age of 36, the "loss" of my own mother became more apparent. Strands of this deep loss are woven into my extreme joy. I see how my friends' mothers interact with their grandchildren and I feel sad. Sad that my daughter, my mother, and I were all robbed of generational experiences that I now long for. 

My mother will never know my daughter. My daughter will know of her maternal grandmother, but she will never know her. Not on this Earth, or in this lifetime anyway. I am comforted by a vivid dream my sister, Marilee, recently shared with me. In it, my mother told Marilee that when she wasn't here (mentally present), she was with God and it was beautiful. Marilee said my mother radiated peace and that Mom was the happiest and most beautiful she'd ever seen her.

I'm embarrassed and saddened to admit I never truly appreciated my mother until I became a mother myself. Until then, I focused on her flaws and her parenting faults. But now I want to ask her how she did it. How did she manage birthing and caring for my four brothers all by the age of 26? How and why did she manage to have six children when I find one overwhelming? How did she sacrifice so much to raise us all? How did she not seem to be tired, stressed, or depleted? These are questions that will go unanswered.

At the end of September, my little girl (I call her Beni-Bird) and I flew from Texas to the east coast to visit my family. We made an overnight trip to my hometown and got a chance to see my mom. 

My brother, Paul, and Marilee tried to prepare me as I hadn't seen her for two years. Mom is now in a wheelchair, they said, and sometimes she is unresponsive. Paul said he stayed only three minutes last time because it was just too painful to see her in that state. 

As fate would have it, when I saw Mom it was a "good day" for her. She was awake, and alert, and in a pleasant mood. I knew Mom wouldn't know who we were. But still I was unprepared when my brother, Mark, introduced my sister and I and she asked, "But where are the real ones?" 

My active two and 1/2-year-old seemed to sense the seriousness of the moment. She was very still as I introduced her. "Beni, this is my mama, your grandmother."

At the end of our visit, we all wheeled Mom back into the dining room of the Alzheimer's unit. We put her at the table amid the other unit residents, some who needed to be fed by an aide because they had forgotten how to feed themselves. Mom asked us not to leave her because then, "Who will I talk to?" 

I put Beni in front of her and once again told Mom this was my daughter, her granddaughter. Mom just kept repeating, "she's so beautiful, she's so beautiful" and even got teary as she said it. This was my ONE moment. My mother acknowledged my daughter on an emotional (and dare I say spiritual) level. 

Then, with tears streaming down my face, I knelt down by my mother's side and told her she was a good mother. I told her I loved her very much and I gave her a hug. And then I got a second gift- she told me she loved me. 

There is a lot my family lost to Alzheimer's disease. But on that visit, I was given one precious moment of my mother, myself, and my daughter all together; and my mom was as aware as she could possibly be. She was moved to tears by my child, and it was a beautiful ONE moment. That moment is all I will likely ever have. So I will hold onto it. And repeat it often to my daughter. And forever be grateful. Forever grateful for ONE moment.


Dear Reader, please take note:

November is the month to celebrate gratitude. It also happens to be my mom's birthday month and National Alzheimer's Awareness Month. For all of these reasons, I dedicate this post to my loving mother, Jacqueline Joslin Sellers.

Several years ago I wrote a post about my mom's Alzheimer's called Reflections from the Old Folk's Home. This was before her mental state deteriorated so much that she needed to be moved away from my father's care and into full-time care in the Alzheimer's unit.

A version of this current post first appeared on Voices from the 'Ville.


  1. Loved reading this. My grandfather (who raised me), also suffers from Alzheimer's. He is unable to recall our names, in my mind, he knows that we love him & tries not to let us know he doesn't remember. Tough times & sad to watch such a vibrant, strong man be so weakened by this disease. My grandfather was diagnosed about 6 yrs ago. He knew my children but doesn't remember them now. He, like your mother, cries at the sight of my daughter telling me how beautiful she is. I wonder if their emotions are reversed? Or if it's sad to see their loved ones having loved ones & "living" in the world they now only wander in?

    Keep the faith.

    1. It's so hard, isn't it? I prefer to think that they are in a happy and peaceful place. They may not know who we are, but I'm sure they can feel the love that we have for them. Stacy, my thoughts are with you and your grandfather.

  2. Anonymous10:20 PM CST

    Kathianne - This is so beautiful! I have so many of these moments too, and will write you a letter one of these days!
    Much love, Cousin Ginny

  3. Anonymous5:40 AM CST

    Moved to tears. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Anonymous10:09 AM CST

    Sitting here crying. Such a beautiful dedication to your mother and your sharing your story is so inspiring for everyone dealing with Alzheimer's. You are such a wonderful woman and mother and a beautiful reflection of the love of your mother. Love you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kathi. Julia is so lucky she has you for a mama and a grandmama for her kiddos.

  5. Anonymous3:21 PM CST

    What a wonderful tribute. Mom would be honored, and proud of the wonderful woman you have become. She is with us in spirit.

  6. I just arrived in Seattle to visit my family and read your post. I will share it with my family, all caregivers to my grandmother who also has Alzheimer's. Thank you for such a beautiful message.

  7. Thank you all for your sweet and supportive comments.

  8. I can appreciate your experience. I had been there, with my Grandmother, and with my children, for several years. Not exactly the same as seeing it in your mother, I am sure, but I spent a lot of my childhood at my Grandparents' house, just two blocks away from my own.

  9. Thank you for writing this. Love, Merls