Monday, November 14, 2011


When someone you love has a chronic, debilitating illness, there's a constant roiling combination of anxiety and grief just below the surface. At least that's how it is for me. And it doesn't take much to expose it all. Sort of like a breach in the dam of my emotions, pin pricks can turn into flash floods pretty quickly. Knowing Mom's brain is chemically and biologically affected by Alzheimer's makes it less of a shock to hear she's been taken to the Emergency Room, but no less scary.

I got an email at work on Thursday morning from my dad, explaining that Mom had a seizure (or similar "fainting spell," unresponsive for 20 to 30 minutes) early that morning and was in the ER for observation. The nursing home had called him, and he had gone to the hospital at 5am. She was fine, his email said, just bored.

While I decided how to respond to the news on Thursday morning, I couldn't control the tears. Surrounded by co-workers in our shared office is not where I wanted to have a melt down. I left work early and spent a few hours with Mom and Dad at the hospital. She was discharged that afternoon, no worse for wear. Thankfully, she already had an appointment scheduled next week with her neurologist.

There's nothing predictable about Alzheimer's except for decline, so hearing that Mom had a seizure was the equivalent to hearing she'd had a stroke, or a heart attack. Panic, loss, fear, bewilderment, anger all came to the surface like the day we heard her diagnosis five years ago. Or the day she got lost while taking a walk. Or the nights she woke up crying. Or the day only a month ago that we moved her to the nursing home.

We've lost a lot. She's lost a lot. Without the familiar abilities, awareness, motor skills, or creativity, it's sometimes hard to recognize the woman I love so much. But she still recognizes us. Her face still lights up when she sees us. She still whistles and hums and can recall the tune to every song she's ever heard. She still smiles and laughs and there are moments when her eyes are filled with unmistakable light.
When I got to her bed in the hospital admittance wing, she was humming to herself and gazing out the window. She smiled when she saw me.

Her lunch was brought in on a cafeteria tray and set on the bedside table. Dad spoon fed her. He kept her laughing. He stood at her side and helped her with a tenderness and nonchalance attributable only to a 35 year-long love story. I was speechless. It was a moment I will never forget. All the angst and blood curdling worry that began building when I read my email that morning vanished. Mom was safe. Dad was here and taking good care of her.

Those happy, peaceful, funny, beautiful moments are the ones my counselor calls miracles. I wish for more dramatic miracles, like Jesus calling my mom's name in a loud voice like he did for Lazarus.

"Vicki! Come out!"

I wish the tendrils of Alzheimer's would unwrap themselves like burial cloth, falling to the ground in ribbons. I wish she could step out of this tomb.

The miracles I witnessed this week might not make headlines, but they still soothe me.
  • A kind doctor's soft voice, giving us vocabulary for our questions
  • Nurses who were attentive and compassionate
  • Dad's stories about music and art and cooking and childhood
  • Mom's laughter, throwing her head back in that familiar way, even in a hospital bed
  • A funny moment of self-consciousness as the nurse wheeled Mom out of the ER, suddenly aware she wasn't in her normal clothes ("Am I dressed?!")
  • Speedy return to the nursing home and a big welcome from the staff there ("Vicki! Hi! How are you feeling? I'm so glad to see you!")
  • Family photos on Friday morning that had us all laughing
  • Seeing my 28 year old brother embrace Mom and rest his head on her shoulder
  • Time this weekend to rest, craft, read, and process.


  1. Emily, I sat down at my computer a few minutes ago moved ALMOST to tears for no apparent reason. (I'm painting my kitchen and a little overwhelmed by the emotions of it?!?) Little did I know I would read such a beautiful blog post. When I clicked on "Miracles" I wasn't thinking I would read something about your mom, I was thinking about worldly miracles like painted kitchens, remodels, jobs and weight loss. This isn't the first time a post of yours has moved me to tears, but I believe this is the first time the holy spirit prepped my heart in advance for the emotion, pulled me to check my blog randomly, encouraged me to click miracles and lead me read the most beautiful of stories of miracles. No those weren't worldy headline miracles, but surely they were heavenly ones. To say Alzheimers scares me is an understatement. It has plagued Brion's dad, his dad's dad and his dad's dad's dad but not to the swift extent it has reached your precious momma.

    Thank you for sharing your stories, know they are read, cherished, & loved.
    Rachel S.

  2. Em, the way you're writing through this painful process is so beautiful. I love the way you've worded things, such as, "I wish the tendrils of Alzheimer's would unwrap themselves like burial cloth, falling to the ground in ribbons. I wish she could step out of this tomb..." it just gives me chills. And makes me cry. You are an amazing woman.
    (And the fact that the staff was so excited to see your mom return tells me you picked a good place for her. :) )