Nancy Wurtzel

Nancy Wurtzel is a public relations professional and creative writer, who recently returned to her native Minnesota after living on the West Coast for many years. Read about her midlife journey on her blog, Dating Dementia, as she navigates through divorce, restarting a career, dating, empty nest challenges, moving home, baby boomer issues and caring for an aging parent with Alzheimer’s. Follow Nancy on Twitter and Facebook.

The Alzheimer's Journey

Posted by: Nancy Wurtzel Updated: November 20, 2013 - 8:39 AM

My 92-year-old mother is in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. Last week, when my sister and I brought Mummy, as we call her, home to live in my house, she was still able to walk with the aid of a walker, say a few words, eat and experience some basic interactions. 

We both sensed Mummy was happy to be at my home and she looked relaxed for the first time in a long time.

We'd moved Mummy into my master bedroom so she would have a private bathroom.  That afternoon, Mummy sat in her new chair, wrapped in a fluffy afghan and holding her baby doll as my sister and I hung pictures and rearranged the room.

I'm not sure what Mummy understood, but she seemed content and that is all that mattered.

In the early evening, the three of us had cocktails -- a cold beer for my sister, a scotch and water for me and an orange drink for Mummy.  We toasted and together we ate dinner at my dining room table.

That first day home was the high point.

My sister departed the next day and Mummy and I were alone for the weekend -- until hospice and the caregivers started on Monday.

On Saturday, it was as though a switch had been turned off.  Mummy was no longer interested in food and mainly kept her eyes shut as she sat in her chair.  Within a day, I couldn't get her out of bed to use the bathroom.  She was coughing heavily during the night and seemed agitated.  She was obviously in pain when I had to move her in bed.

I would say she felt miserable.  I know I felt miserable.

Early Sunday morning, around 4 am, I awoke to coughing, but this time it was a different type of cough.  Transfixed, I watched her labored breathing, her chest heaving up-and-down, up-and-down in a horrible, rattling rhythm.

I felt she might die at any minute.  I willed her to die.  She didn't.

When the sun came up, Mummy had rallied and would live another day, and then another and another.  Today, she smiled a little and perhaps she knew I was her daughter.

Yet, there is no denying the end is near.  I see it and I feel it.

With the help of a caregiver this morning, we cleaned mom up as best we could.  When we must move her in bed, I give her a small dose of morphine and wait 10 or 15 minutes for it to take effect.

The word 'morphine' is sobering.

Mummy is not eating and is probably losing the ability to swallow.  She has her eyes shut most of the time.  One moment I believe she is stable and then in the next moment I feel her hovering between this life and whatever is beyond.

What is beyond?

Being close to death is forcing me to examine what I believe, as well as what I do not believe.  I sit by Mummy's bedside.  Watching, waiting, thinking.

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