After my father died at 95, Mother was lost. She became ill and although she improved, couldn’t live alone, so her neighbors helped, and Bo and I drove the 185 miles between our home and hers weekly, passing one another on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He spent weekdays with her while I worked; I went on weekends. She then moved into a senior residence but we still traveled and after three years of this distance care, Mother decided to move from her hometown of 90 years to be near me.
At the same time that she moved here, Bo was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although I had known something was different, I didn’t expect it. I was so busy with Mother’s move that I was shocked when, as I walked into our bedroom one day, Bo simply said to me, “I have Alzheimer’s. Poor Nancy, you’ll have a couple of bad years with your mother and me.”
I asked myself why I hadn’t seen it coming. How was it possible that Bo and gone to the doctor, had tests, and gotten this diagnosis without me knowing? Later, I looked back and realized that he hadn’t helped me with Mother’s move. Why hadn’t I noticed that?
The answer is that he had done so much for my parents over the years — always there for them, always there for me — that when I had the chance to do most of Mother’s move by myself, I thought I was giving him a break. Instead, he actually wouldn’t have been able to do it because of his own emotional state.
I decided I couldn’t tell Mother about Bo’s condition because she would be so upset; she would feel like an extra burden to me. I’m an only child with no other relatives who could help and my future would frighten her so. I waited three years, three difficult years of watching both of them while hiding Bo’s slowly disintegrating mind from Mother. When we were with her, I anticipated his every word, monitored every move, covered for him if he said something that seemed strange. As long as I could hide it from her, she wouldn’t be worried.
But eventually it was too hard, too exhausting to keep the secret. I was stressed when I was away from Bo while spending time with Mother, and when I was at home, I worried about her. So I told her. We had lunch together and after several tries, I got up the nerve to say the words: “Boris has Alzheimer’s.”
And from then on, she was almost frantic with worry — about me, my present, my future, about Boris and our life. Mother had always been a worrier, but this was the worst possible scenario for her and I knew it broke her heart.
My friends helped me, visiting Mother when they could, having tea in her little apartment, taking her flowers. My friend Karen even helped her plan a surprise birthday party for me. She loved these times, loved my friends, and to this day, although no one told me this, I am sure that she asked each one of them to take care of me when she was gone. She died three years ago, and although she couldn’t be the caregiver she wanted to be, she looked after me in her own way.