When Alzheimer’s Took the Wheel

It was last year at this time when the doctor told my mom that she wasn’t able to drive anymore. She was 68, vibrant and seemingly fine to many.

It feels like forever ago, but I remember the small hospital room as our little family piled in; me, my sister, Dad and Mom. My mom was anxious. She hates these appointments, always worried the Doctors will ask her questions and highlight all the ways things are not going well. They won’t focus on the positive. My mom likes to focus on the positive.

The Doctor asked her how she was feeling and my mom made her statement with confidence, “I feel great. I make a conscious choice to be happy every day.” The Doctor nodded her head, a bit passively. Maybe I was being overly cynical. I remember watching her eyes closely to see if she was really seeing my mom, hearing her and knowing her, or was she just waiting  her turn to Doctor and move on.

Please see her.
Please acknowledge this amazing spirit.
She still has so much to offer the world.   

At one point the Doctor stepped out and I was quick to make the bathroom excuse and followed her out. In the hallway, I stopped her and we huddled and whispered as I explained the driving situation and recent incidents and the challenges my Dad was having with this next step of taking mom’s car away. The orders needed to come from this cold, calculated Doctor and so here I was plotting with her, against my mom’s wishes.

I was focused on the outcome and determined not to let the process break me.

Back in the room there was nervous chatter as we waited for the Doctor to return. She walked in and I braced myself. We can do this. I repeated it over and over again.

“Based on the progress of your memory loss, you should not be driving and I suggest not being alone for long periods of time either.”

There it was. Words that would be typed into her report and filed away. It was official. We watched my mom closely. Her eyes were glazed, she acted surprised but not really. “Oh, wow, okay then.”

Later she would forget and we would have to remind her that it wasn’t us denying her her driving rights, her independence…it was that Doctor.

I held  my breath in that hospital room. The Doctor moved on, other words were exchanged, a PET scan was ordered. The actual diagnosis was looming and would come a couple of weeks later.

A whole year ago it was a form of Dementia…soon to be Alzheimer’s. But this was not news to me. The signs had been consistent and in my face for a couple of years already. I knew what was coming. I knew what was here.

The outcome is understood. The symptoms are understood. They are discussed and tracked, sometimes subtle and other times blindingly visible.

But the progression…what I didn’t know, what I still don’t know, is how it will progress. The progression is the unknown. It could be fast or slow.

Really fast or really slow.

How do I plan for that? How do I prepare for that? How do I brace myself for that? I can try to and yet I can’t. That’s the truth. All I can do is surrender. I surrender to the here and now. I consciously tap into the wisdom of surrender.

My mom doesn’t drive anymore. She doesn’t read my blog posts anymore. So much has changed.

My grief has changed.
Her laugh has changed.
Our family has changed.

This is where I should add in the things that haven’t changed. That’s what we want to hold on to. But I’m not going to. Not today. These changes are all part of this messy life.

Sometimes the unknown needs to be just that, unknown.
There is grace when I surrender.

One thought on “When Alzheimer’s Took the Wheel”

  1. Amy Newton says:

    Well written! My heart breaks for you and your family. Cherish every moment.

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