Reflections: Awakened by Alzheimer’s, Part I

George Rowe

She was an awesome lady!

She raised 15 children and was a faithful partner to her husband for more than half a century. She worked very hard and during difficult circumstances she always made sure that her children were protected and cared for.

She demonstrated her love in ways that would blow your mind. She constantly engaged herself in cooking, baking, sewing, mending, netting socks and sweaters and mittens. She had a magnetic personality. A very caring and loving person who never ever put herself above others. She was loved and appreciated. She always gave without expecting anything in return.

Her beautiful eyes and all engaging smile would so captivate you that conversation was an automatic. She would never raise her voice above the decibel of normal conversation. She never scolded, or undermined or belittled another person. She never showed favouritism to her children but simply treated all fifteen as individual persons with their own gifts and goals and aspirations.

Her motherly instincts told her that as the children reached the age of maturity and accountability the family nest would begin to empty. With fledging wings they flew to various destinations to make dreams come to fruition. One noticed very quickly that as each child moved away it was like a part of her had died. She would silently weep as each child left home but she was so proud that her boys and her girls did so well for themselves.

It was always a precious time to go back home for a visit and be welcomed at the door with open arms and a bear hug embrace that almost stopped blood circulation. For a few days there would be lots of good food, laughter, storytelling and then the heartbreak of having to leave home, again.

As you left once more, this awesome lady would embrace you, weep for you and with you, brush your face with loving and caring hands and then quickly retreat to the kitchen and watch you through the window while hot tears would saturate her beautiful cheeks.

The children married and started to raise their own families. Finally the nest was completely empty and my parents were left alone—a big six bedroom house all to themselves. They travelled to visit their children and their grandchildren, but age and sickness began to creep upon them and on October 13, 1992 Dad passed away and Mom lived on her own until Alzheimer’s left her destitute of memory and incapable of doing everyday choirs that was so common for so long. She was placed into a very special caring facility where members of the family were able to visit her on a weekly basis.

The Rowe family do a reunion every five years. This particular one was to be special—special for myself, my wife and our three children because we had not seen Mom since she was “institutionalized.” I was warned by my siblings that Mom was not the same. She had no memory of her fifteen children. She was frail, almost immobile, had to be fed, could not toilet herself and at times she was lost in a world all by herself.

During the last few weeks before I left Tumbler Ridge for home I looked at many pictures of Mom so that her beautiful physical features would be forever etched in my memory. My wife and myself and our children arrived at the home with fear and in trepidation. A number of my siblings were already with Mom trying to communicate some kind of a message that I was coming. One of my brothers was walking with me and as I got closer to Mom’s room he said, “Do not be alarmed! Mom is not the same!” I stayed focused on my last mental images of this awesome lady and then I saw her.

She was standing at the entrance of her room supported on both sides by her children. I immediately felt weak and sick and said to my brother, “This is not my Mother! This is not my Mom!” I quickly found a bench in an adjoining corridor and sitting down I buried my face in my hands and cried like a child, “This is not my Mother! This is not my Mother!”