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The Long Goodbye- When did We know?

People always ask me what signs led to us finding out my mom had Alzheimer's. As time goes on, my thinking about this becomes clearer. It was my freshman year of college. My mom had made the trip to Fayetteville several times over that year. On this particular spring day my mom made the trip by herself. My brother had a baseball game in Fort Smith and we would meet there before driving another hour to my college town. 

I got a frantic call from my mom. She was "lost" on Interstate 30. What you must realize is that 30 takes you directly from Little Rock to Fort Smith. There is no "getting lost." I laughed and told her she was headed in the right direction. She was still twenty minutes away from the exit. I told her I would see her soon, and we hung up. Five minutes later she called again. She couldn't remember if I had told her she was going to right way. It was one of the first times I heard fear in my mom's voice. She was alone, and her mind was beginning to fail her. She pulled over at the next exit, I drove to meet her there, and she followed me the rest of the way. Embarrassed, she hugged me and said the familiar, "Don't tell anyone, I just got a little confused." I assured her it was easy to do, though I worriedly knew it wasn't. I guess I never realized how easy it was to put on blinders. To mask the unthinkable. To realize that the most able person you know is failing simple tasks. 

I would later learn that my sister was also playing along with the charade. My sister, from the beginning, has been the odd ball. I mean no harm in this..she would agree. We often laugh at the energy and type A personality she possessed at an early age. Eleanor ran everywhere she went, and for obvious reasons, it drove my mom crazy. This energy later turned into strong passion and I would say, without a doubt, that my sister is the child my mom most admires. She, being the child most affected by my mom's disease, has persevered. Because of her loyal spirit my sister took on the pain of what was to come. I would later learn that at the age of thirteen my sister was writing checks at the grocery store because my mom couldn't. Once again, my mom asked that my sister not tell and faithfully my sister kept to herself. My mom never told anyone that she had lost recognition of numbers and letters. They were one of the first things the disease stole from her.

My brother, quiet and compassionate, at sixteen would sit with his arms around my mom. Most teenage boys would be ashamed, but I know he would tell you he is glad he never shunned her affection. He has always been her calm companion; He is still her sweet George. Even now, in her confusion and upset, he can speak words that quiet her spirit, stop her tears. On the night my parents told us of my mom's diagnosis my mom found my brother on the front steps of our house. He was upset and after talking for a while my brother asked my mom an honest favor. He asked if she would ride with him to the gas station and buy him a pack of cigarettes. She agreed, and when they returned home, she sat by her son on the front steps as he handled his grief. My mom knew the best way to love him was to meet him where he was. George said they talked for a long time, and I know it is a memory that will stay with him the rest of his life.

My dad, looking back, has seen signs years before we did. My dad is a dedicated man. He has been married to my mom for nearly 25 years and is loosing his life-long companion. I remember, shortly after my mom was diagnosed, my dad weeping and telling me the things he planned to do with my mom as they grew old together. To get to enjoy each other. One of the most special gifts my dad has given his three children is an earthly picture of unconditional love. To thins stage, her disease hasn't kept them from growing old together. Every morning, he bathes, dresses, and applies makeup to his bride. He does this so he can spend everyday with her while she know him. Even more special than that is my mom's desire to be with my dad. She is lost without him. It is for this reason that my dad sacrifices everyday so her needs can be met. Their companionship is a testament of God's love and grace. 

Hold my head inside your hands
I need someone who understands 
I need someone, someone who hears
For you I’ve waited all these years

For you I’d wait 'til kingdom come
Until my day, my day is done
And say you'll come and set me free
Just say you'll wait, you'll wait for me

'Til Kingdom Come

Known by many as "the long goodbye," Alzheimer's disease is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States. An estimated 5 million people in the United States are now living with Alzheimer's, and someone is diagnosed with the disease every 72 seconds (Info from the Alzheimer's Association).


  1. Hi Mare: You are a very talented writer - what a great book you're creating and what memories....I'm enjoying reading them and being updated on your Mom, it's painful for me but it's all so true!

  2. Hey Mare! I just wanted to drop you a quick line and tell you how amazing I think this book is going to be. I am just amazed at how deeply personal and insightful your readings have been. I am so proud of you for doing this!! I know it has to be hard for you, thanks for sharing some your most personal thoughts with us so we can just even a little bit understand what you and others affected by this are going through.

    PPL and mine always,
    Lauren Young Kimbrough


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