It’s been seven years since I lost my mom. Losing her was a very slow process. As her memory began to fail, she became a different person--until all that was left was a shell.
At first, the diagnosis was “dementia”. Mama would keep asking the same question over and over. There were times when she would pick fights or say hurtful things. Those were the times I saw how much Papa loved her. Though it was obvious that he did not fully understand her disease, he remained very patient with her. When she was quarrelsome, he would remain silent and show no sign of anger at all. He would remind her to shower or to have her hair trimmed. Once, I caught him crying silently. He said he did not really know what made her that way. He kept telling himself that he fulfilled every promise he made on their wedding day.
Days before Papa suffered a stroke, we brought Mama to her psychiatrist for her regular check-up. By then, she had already explained to us that Mama had Alzheimer’s. “Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks,” says the Alzheimer’s Association.
Years before, we noticed that her forgetfulness got worse every day. Then her personality changed. She became irritable and could no longer cook. Having been known for the delicious food she would cook or bake, that was really alarming. I realized short-term memory loss could be dangerous. She often forgot that she was cooking!
The Alzheimer’s Association explains that it is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent and that it is not a normal part of aging, though many people with Alzheimer’s are usually 65 and older. Cases of early onset (when the disease appears in people in their 40s or 50s) have also been reported. It is a progressive disease, such that those suffering from it eventually lose their ability to communicate and it has no current cure, although there are already treatments for symptoms.
Finland ranks first among the countries where death was caused Alzheimer’s/dementia at 34.9 percent, followed by Iceland at 25.1 percent and 24.8 percent in the United States. The Philippines was listed as 158th, with only 1.4 percent.
I am not aware of the details of this survey and I assume that even if the deceased had Alzheimer’s, the proximate cause of death may have been listed as something else. For example, my mom’s death certificate says she succumbed to a heart attack.
Months before her death, she had a mastectomy and was subsequently declared cancer-free. At that time, I had already researched on the disease and as I understood it, it was like the disease was causing her brain to shut down little by little. Though living with someone with the disease could be very difficult, there were hilarious moments too.
ONLY THE HEART REMEMBERS
While my father undergoing brain surgery and was later confined to the intensive care unit of the hospital where he was admitted, I left my mother with her cousins. They said she always packed her clothes and insisted on going home as Papa was waiting for her and that she had chores to do. Everything they said—from bad weather to floods could not make her stay. She said she would take a boat home if necessary. Then my uncle thought of telling her that none of the boats had outriggers and that those could turn over and she would drown. That made her change her mind.
When we brought Papa home, she’d hold his hand and talk to him, asking so many questions. He could not answer because he had a tracheostomy. She assumed that he was angry because he wouldn’t answer.
During his wake, she kept asking where he was. Then, one time, she asked if I’d already fed him. I said, “Ma, he’s gone!” She looked at me and said, “Where did he go?” I explained that if she took a few steps towards the casket in front of us, she would see his remains. “Your poor Papa… do you think he’s hungry?”
Then I thought, she may have lost her memory, but her heart never forgot.
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