Dear Family & Friends,
My sweet mother-in-law, Natalie (“Mom”), passed away last Thursday morning after 13 years with Alzheimer’s. Mom had lived a life infused with great emotional courage, a constant focus on family, and a whole lot of pure and unadulterated fun. While the last few years took away much from her, her first 80 years were extraordinarily full.
First things first: As much as I HATE Alzheimer’s Disease and what it did to both Mom’s brain and to her quality of life, I know that she is now joyous and that her brain is once again whole. I know that she is celebrating the reunion with her own mother who also suffered dementia; her beloved husband of more than 40 years, David; her sister; and many other family members and loved ones. I also know that my husband and I will see her again and that she will have many things to share with us when we arrive. I can just see her with a huge grin on her face, waving her arm and saying, “Come see, come see! You won’t believe this!”
I’d like to share a little bit about Mom and the three descriptors that always come to mind when I think of her: courage, family and fun.
Courage: In 1959, Mom had three young girls and was pregnant with my husband when her first husband died very suddenly. Perhaps some of you have suffered through a tragedy similar to this, and can imagine how difficult this period must have been for Mom, but it is beyond my comprehension. What courage she portrayed, giving birth to her newborn son and raising all four of her children on her own for several years.
Family: She found and nurtured an amazing love with her second husband, David. When I first met them, they had been married more than 20 years, and yet they still held hands everywhere they went, even to the grocery store. She clearly cherished her relationship with him, and was an example to me of how to live your wedding vows every day as if they had been said only moments before. (Certainly, there were moments of gratitude when, after his death in 2005, Mom’s Alzheimer’s often kept her from remembering her great loss.)
Mom also was an example of celebrating family gatherings. The focus was always much more on the people, than on the logistics or the food or the venue.
Fun: That said, Mom did love a party. Even well into the Alzheimer’s, she would be giddy with delight when a group of us would enter her room and tell her we were going to celebrate … something, anything. It may have been just lunch out, or as time went on, just enjoying a hot fudge sundae together. But if we told her it was a party, she was IN!
I am grateful that Mom remained pleasant throughout her years with Alzheimer’s. Even near the end, even as she lost her ability to focus on anyone or anything, she never suffered through the anger or aggressiveness that sometimes accompanies this horrible disease. I remember giving her a manicure and pedicure once a few years ago. She held her fisted hands up in front of her face, shaking them back and forth, her mouth in a wide smile saying, “Oooooh, Ooooooh, Ooooooh,” and grinning, a little tear of joy slipping out of her eye.
I know that it could have been much different. I’ve seen persons Alzheimer’s truly frightened to their core, believing that someone or something intended to hurt them. We were spared that particular horror with Mom.
I am grateful to Natalie for all that she taught me, and for raising the wonderful man who became my husband. In honor of her life, I will continue to be involved in the Alzheimer’s Association’s research efforts into the causes of, and treatments for, this insidious disease. I will continue to support the programs that give helpful information and relief to family members and caregivers. I will continue to fight for a cure so that my husband and children — and everyone else’s loved ones — can be free of the threat of Alzheimer’s.