Notes from the Sandwich Generation (update on my mom and her Alzheimer's)

Legend has it — and it may, quite possibly, be true — that Rose Post, my mother, won more NC press awards than any journalist in the history of the state (while raising five children).

Whether she won “the most” or just quite a few, she achieved what she did for many reasons:  high energy, longevity, and talent.

Now, she’s taken up a humble residence in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon Assisted Living, her memory so depleted that I feel a pang of joy each time she remembers to call me by the name she gave me:  “Sammy.”

She moved to Salisbury, NC, as a young child, and lived here almost her entire 84 years — over 50 of which were spent as a newspaper reporter for The Salisbury Post.

She knew a remarkable amount of local history.  Not necessarily the textbook type of history — battles and government events and churches, although she knew a lot of that — but much of the human side of life in the American South in the second half of the 20th century.

All of her fellow residents at Carillon certainly knew their share.  Each was a vibrant, functioning person with the entire constellation of thoughts and activity we all in enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

But she was a particularly nosy busy body who had a tendency to write stuff down and publish it for all the locals to read.

I remember listening to her gossip about who carried on with who during the various wars, when boyfriends and husbands were overseas.  People sneaked around and climbed through windows and even got pregnant.  The tabloid stuff.

But she also intimately knew the history of civil rights and desegregation, school merger and higher education, tornadoes, floods, leaders, writers, crackpots, business ventures, centenarians with perfect memory, changes in Russia and China, and even a bit of presidential politics.

And she knew many of the players.  She interviewed all kinds of famous people.

She knew about immigration, since both of her parents escaped messy regimes in Europe for a better life here.

When a school principal once told me that he didn’t expect Mexicans to do well in school because, after all, they don’t hear English at home, I replied that it’s actually quite possible.  My mother’s parents didn’t speak English at home, and she could read and write in English just fine (a lot better than he did, even though his parents did speak English at home — although I did not say that).

It’s not so easy now.

Alzheimer’s Disease strips away the past and future, and leaves one in a virtually speechless, fleeting fog of here-and-now.

The adjustment to this new residence — a life that leaned toward the vast, now reduced to the minimal — so hard for her family and her friends, seems to be have been quite easy for her.  She doesn’t seem to know where she is anyway.  Her new, communal home, comes with a bit of built-in social life.  There’s an old friend or two among her suite mates, even an old college friend, a woman who raised five children here in Salisbury in the same era.  I sat between them yesterday, thinking how long and well they knew each other, even though they barely seem to know that now.

They are receiving care that is loving, gentle, and kind.  Do I dare say, given her condition, that she enjoys it?  Possibly so.

There were other options, and there’s been quite a bit of controversy in the family about how to deal with Mom’s care.  At one point, a couple of years ago, I renounced my Power of Attorney because I couldn’t live my life while engaging in each sibling battle/decision.

I do know that Mom took care of her mother, in her home, as long as she possibly could.  My grandmother, Bubie, ultimately died in a nursing home at the age of 97.  Mom bought long term care insurance for herself precisely because she did not want to be a burden to us.  She told me so.  She also told me that she wanted to stay in her own house as long as possible, until she didn’t know where she was anymore.  Then she wanted to move into a place similar to where she is now.

So, despite the controversies among her children — and there could be more — I feel her wishes have been honored.

My home, in the only house I’ve ever owned, is only three blocks from hers, the home I grew up in.  It’s an easy five minute walk.  So the ties were close, and the adjustment may be more difficult for me than for Mom.

But I’m lucky that she’s in a good place that specializes in Alzheimer’s that’s only a five minute drive.  I’m content, knowing she’s safe, and surrounded by people who have some training and respect for what she’s dealing with.  I like visiting her there, and I’m not worrying as much about her when I’m not there.

Psychologists and economists tell us that, as much as we like to pretend we care about others — and, of course, we do — we mostly care about ourselves.

I could run for President of that club.

Some say that we’re experiencing an Alzheimer’s epidemic that is not entirely attributable to the aging population.  I try to drink plenty of water, exercise, do lots of deep breathing, eat blueberries and fish — but…

Yesterday, I dropped off my car at the mechanic and walked home.  He called, a few minutes later, and asked where I had left the key.

“Right beside the cash register,” I said.

“It’s not here,” he said.

I knew that’s where I put it, but I checked my pocket and there it was.

So I guess that’s my albatross, and the albatross of millions of others in my generation.  Each time we lose our keys or forget where anything is (I often lose my glasses and my shoes), we get to wonder if we’re getting Alzheimer’s Disease and, if so, how it’s progressing and how much of this good time we have left.


like touching a splinter

that’s what it was like
talking to sisters
and brothers

about her

the past
two years
and a lost second ago

nobody forgets anything

then soon
there was no choice
but to cut it out

a sharp blade
no plan
then cutting flesh

a real incision
that leaves more than
a scar

more than lost
lost memory

brain cuts
can’t work

pains radiate

they shoot through
joints, limbs, gait, families
any memory of good memory

leaves one sibling
the superstar of remembering her
all cut out
no one to remember to