Saturday, May 9, 2009


Mother's Day has taken on a bittersweet tone this year, after the passing of my wife's mother last spring and the realization that the number of Mother's Days with my own mother are rapidly dwindling. You see, several years ago, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are 5.3 million Americans living with the disease and it is our sixth leading cause of death. Since it primarily attacks senior citizens, that number is sure to grow as our population ages. The disease "destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life." It is always fatal and there is no cure. These are facts that I never realized until Mom was diagnosed.

Mom came from a poor family but, through hard work and the help of a Pell Grant, she was able to put herself through college. She worked first as a teacher, then later for the Iowa Department of Human Services. She kept the books for our family farm. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 62, rather than moping about, she wrote about the experience in an article that was published in a national magazine.

My mother is a smart lady. I would like to explain to Alzheimer's how unfair it is that she be slowly stripped of her greatest asset, but there is no rationalizing with Alzheimer's.

Besides working full time and keeping the books, Mom gladly accepted all the other duties of a farm wife. I can recall myself and my siblings working in the fields, picking up the numerous rocks that our farm always bore. In the late afternoon we would see Mom's car return from work. A few minutes later Mom would emerge from the house, out of her office attire and into her chore clothes, to help us, always without delay and without complaint. Whatever the task, be it picking up rocks, driving a tractor or hefting buckets of feed, Mom could do it.

My mother is a strong woman. I would advise Alzheimer's that there must surely be easier targets to attack, but there is no reasoning with Alzheimer's.

Long about junior-high age I decided that I didn't want to go to church anymore. I can recall arguing about this with Mom one Sunday morning. Although I thought I had presented a compelling case, Mom carried the day and forty minutes later my rebellious little butt was firmly planted in a church pew.

As I sat there in church, my arms folded, silently fuming, I felt a gentle rap on my shoulder. I turned to see Mom produce something from her purse and hold it out to me. It was a small plastic sandwich bag filled with Cheereos, much like the other mothers in the congregation might use to comfort a crying baby. Message received.

My mother is a smart alec! She has an acerbic wit that still, to this day, she will occasionally play like an ace card when no one expects it. I would warn Alzheimer's not to mess with her, that she could cut it down to size with a mere word (or less), but there is no threatening Alzheimer's.

So, what is this mother's son to do? I help my folks out with some errands now and then (what little I can with a job and a growing family of my own from two counties away). I donate what little I can afford to groups like Alzheimer's Association. Other than that, I can only remind Mom that I love her and wish her a happy Mother's Day.

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