When "The Person That Used to Be" Shines Through

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • In August, Mom was mentally somewhere else. Conversations with her were unintelligible. At that point, I blamed her mental decline on the progression of both Alzheimer's disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She was not only gasping for breath, but also grasping mentally to figure out what was going on.


    So I didn't know what to expect when I approached Mom in mid-August with two birthday cards. You see, my brother's and father's birthdays fall on two consecutive days in August. I knew that Mom would want to send her love, but I wasn't sure how to help her convey those messages in her mental state. But - as I had done for the past two years - I purchased appropriate birthday cards that she could sign and I took them to the nursing home when I visited one day.

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    On that particular day, she was unfocused in her thinking - until I brought up the birthday cards. "Mom, you know that Steve's and Dad's birthdays are coming up," I told her. "We talked about it recently and you asked if I would bring birthday cards for you to sign."


    And in the face of the confusion came a miracle: Mom suddenly had some clarity. I offered her the birthday card for my brother, Steve, that I had bought for her to sign. Grasping the pen that I offered, Mom looked at me and asked, "Would it be OK to just sign Mom?" "Sure," I said. Holding the pen tightly, she carefully tried to get her hand coordination to cooperate as she poised the pen to sign the card. About 30 seconds later, a shaky but legible "MOM" was evident under the greeting.


    Now it was time to move to Dad's card. After carefully reading the greeting card's message for her, I opened the card for Mom to sign. Without any prompting, she tried to sign her full name, Betty N. Martin. Then she proceeded to write two messages to Dad. Because of her limited coordination, I couldn't read what she wrote, but I choose to believe that she wanted to convey how much she loved Dad and that she appreciated what he had done for her. At least, that's what her actions and intensity implied.


    After the signing of Dad's card was completed, I closed the card. "If it's OK with you, I'll mail Steve's card to him since I have his address and a stamp at home," I said. She was fine with that.


    "And Mom, if you'd like, I"ll be glad to bring this card with me when we celebrate Dad's birthday so you can give it to him," I said. She appeared thankful for this thought, and she did have the opportunity to hand-deliver her signed card to her husband of over 50 years when we visited on his birthday. A little more than a month later after Dad's birthday celebration, Mom died.


    What I learned from this is that even though Alzheimer's can brutally steal a lot of what a person has been, there may be reserves that we don't know about that the loved one can call on when he or she finds something particularly important. In Mom's case, it was sending a message to her family.


    I am glad that I was able to share this story of their birthday cards with my brother and father after Mom died. I could tell both of them that, in the midst of her mental confusion, she was able to focus her mind enough on something that was extremely important to her - showing her love by signing her husband's and son's birthday cards. That served as an example of what Betty Martin was about.

Published On: October 24, 2007