Hi, readers! Like most people, my mother enjoys the special days of the year — her birthday, her anniversary, and of course, Mother's Day. The Martin family gathered together last summer to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, and we'll be together again for my mother's eightieth birthday in September. Right now I'm thinking about just the right gift to give to her for Mother's Day. But the truth is, my mother doesn't remember that she's been married for fifty years, she doesn't know how old she is, she doesn't understand what Mother's Day is, and I'm not sure that she always recognizes me when I see her. The explanation for my mother's memory loss and increasingly odd behavior was given to us almost ten years ago when her doctors diagnosed her with Alzheimer's disease.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Alzheimer's, it is a disease that affects the brain cells which control our thinking, memory and behavior. Because it is associated with advancing age, Alzheimer's patients tend to be in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties. In our family, we initially became concerned when my mother started forgetting names, dates, and common, everyday words. Then we noticed that we were repeating conversations that we had just had with her as if the questions had never been asked and answered. Although my mother was unaware that she was doing this, she was definitely confused, frustrated and even a little defensive over the obvious memory lapses.
Having a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer's can be very upsetting for family members, especially for young children who may not understand why their grandmother or grandfather is acting in an unfamiliar way. For those of you who read Belle Teal, you may remember that Belle Teal's grandmother starts behaving in worrisome ways. For example, Gran keeps asking the same question over and over again. She calls her son for dinner, even though he died many years ago. When it's freezing outside and cold in the house, she wears a flimsy cotton nightgown and has bare feet. Gran also ruins her famous Christmas fruitcake when she incorrectly measures the ingredients. But as scared as Belle Teal is about her grandmother and the uncertain future, she is comforted by knowing that Gran's strength has passed on to her and to her mother, and that they will be strong enough to take care of Gran and each other.
I wanted to convey this strength and optimism in the book because of my own personal experiences. There's no doubt that it's sad and scary to know that someone you love has this disease. But I think my mother would be proud of how our family has rallied together to share in this part of her life. And we've all become closer out of our desire for her well-being. I can't predict the future, but like Belle Teal, I'm comforted by knowing that my family is strong and that we can take care of each other.