Feb 27, 2014

The Worst Day of Her Life

When my mother was sick, any time the phone rang, I reflexively cringed. Although she wasn’t living with us, we were the front-line defense for any issue at the nearby assisted living center where we had moved her after my father’s passing.

In addition to other issues, my mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After three years of dealing with her disease, we were more fortunate than some, in that she still had about 50% lucid moments. There were also times, though, when she couldn’t remember my children’s names, that I wasn’t sixteen or that she had lung cancer and COPD.

“I breathe just fine,” she’d say while cursing at the staff for insisting she wear her oxygen.

Shaking off my Pavlov response to the center’s number popping up in the caller ID, I picked up the receiver.

“Hi Melinda, we have a situation with your mother and we need you to come out,” the center director said at a more frantic pace than usual.

After caring for someone with Alzheimer’s for a while, I’d learned to triage the chaos the symptoms caused. Refusal to wear her adult diaper (because she didn’t remember having an incontinence problem) would require one level of engagement. Her trying to leave the center because she didn’t believe she lived there would be another. Thankfully, over the years, we had developed a good, trusting relationship with the center staff. When the director didn’t immediately tell me what was going on, I knew we were probably looking at some kind of Deafcon 1 scenario.

“She’s not hurt, but I really need you to come as soon as you can. I’ll explain when you get here.”

I heard the noise of the commotion from my mom’s room from down the hall when I entered the center. The door to her room was open. The center director stood in the doorway and two staff attendants were in the room.

Tears streamed down my mother’s face. Short and frail, in her Tinkerbell nightgown and clutching her vintage purse, she looked like a crying child.

“Why won’t you help me find him! We have to find him,” she yelled as I entered the room. Upon seeing me, relief overcame her. “Melinda, these charlatans won’t let me call the police to find Pete.”

I spent the next couple of hours trying to help my mother understand that her husband of forty years had died, that he wasn’t coming home to take care of her and that the police couldn’t help her find him.

Hearing me saying it and reading his obituary was as painful to her as the morning she found his cold body on the bathroom floor. Added to her grief was an overwhelming shame and sadness that she hadn’t remembered something so important to her.

Looking back on it, I can pinpoint that day, that event, as the day my mother died. Sure she physically fought on for a few years after but her spirit had left the party.

Last night I caught an interview Seth Rogen on a news show talking about his testimony to Congress regarding his Alzheimer’s foundation. His mother-in-law has the disease. It was a great interview and I hope you’ll watch it. Unfortunately, a lot of Senators didn’t even bother to show up.

Today Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, affects 5 million people and costs our country $203 billion dollars annually. It is the only cause of death that increased from 2000 to 2010. Every 68 seconds, someone is diagnosed. If you’re looking for a great book on the topic, I highly recommend my Lotus Lit agency sister Nancy Stearns Bercaw’s book Brain in a Jar.

Both of my parents had cancer. My father, after beating cancer, died of a heart attack. I can truly say that there is no worse disease, no crueler way to die, than Alzheimer’s.

Solving a riddle as complicated as the brain isn’t easy. As Seth points out, right now, the biggest obstacle to treatment and a cure is money.

So this is a shameless plea for you to give. Give to Seth’s foundation Hilarity for Charity. Give to Cure Alzheimer’s (the highest rated Alzheimer’s charity).

If you can’t give, but want to help support the fight against this horrible disease, please help share my post or links to the foundations through your social media network. Social Media buttons are below. Thank you!


  1. Thanks for sharing this, MJ. I can't even imagine what this was like for you or your mom. It truly is a heartbreaking affliction.

    1. Thanks so much Jadah. Sometimes I feel like it's a forgotten disease. It was cool to see someone like Seth Rogen trying to do something different to spread the word about the need for funding.

  2. Thank you so, so much for sharing this. Alzheimer's scares me so much. The very thought of it is terrifying. Off to watch the interview.

    1. Thanks SC. I thought the part of the interview where he talked about Alzheimer's being so different than what's portrayed in the media was really powerful.

  3. Great post and so sad. Sorry you had to watch your parents suffer so much. I once wrote an article about this terrible disease and learned how horrific it really is. Getting it is my worst fear.

    Hugs. Thanks for sharing your mom's story.


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