My mother was a mom to everyone. She raised me and my younger sister, helped raise my nephews and even my son when he was younger.
I’ve never been more close to someone in my life, and everyone she cared for loved her very deeply.
She was also the kind of person who wanted to help guide our spiritual journeys, and she took me and the boys to church every Sunday, never hesitating to offer answers to tough questions, like “Why is God cruel sometimes?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
So when the worst thing imaginable happen to mom, we felt cursed. Alzheimer’s in her 50s. Soon, this wonderful woman who would drop anything to help us and my nephews and my own son, couldn’t take care of herself anymore.
I could count on her for anything, and then all of a sudden I was counting the times she’d repeat the same question over and over: “What’s your name? Who are you?”
Soon, she needed help with basic needs, like dressing, eating, going to the bathroom – all the things we take for granted as “normal” human beings.
I call myself Head Honcho at Mom’s Caregiver. It’s my Facebook employment status, and I mean it when my care for her became around the clock before I knew it.
The next thing to go was her ability to walk. Confined to a wheelchair, the confusion and fear took over.
The last thing to go was recognizing her husband. They married young and were inseparable. They didn’t always have very much, but they always had each other. Their favorite thing to say was “no matter what, we will always be together.” They stayed together 42 years, even when he became a stranger to her.
My mother turned 58 in September. A month later, she was gone. It was like she was there and not there, and then not there forever.
One good thing to come out of it. My mom and I had had a rocky relationship for such a long time, but we were able to mend our relationship and grow so close, once I became mom’s full-time caregiver.
I’m sharing my story because I want others to know that Alzheimer’s and dementia does not discriminate by age, gender or race. Being a caregiver is hard and unrelenting and challenges you in so many ways.
It was a gift to care for my mother, but I hope that through sharing my story with other Young Voices for Dementia, others will share their own stories.
It’s the only way we will ever stand a chance to fight this Long Goodbye.
Karla Smith, who just turned 40, works in customer service in Bakersfield, Calif.