Coping with my Mother's Alzheimer's

By Martha Stringer

I'm afraid it's dying: a tall, white pine tree which has graced the corner of my back yard since before I moved here 11 years ago. I had my suspicions in the spring, when its needles, once lush and green, seemed pale in comparison to its neighbors. Its boughs drooped, but not from an abundant crop of pine cones like the others.

"It's hard to say what's causing it," the arborist told me. His advice was to fertilize, watch and wait. "You might save it," he said. Or at least delay the onset of whatever was causing its demise. Either way I'd have it around longer than the alternative.

"I could cut it down," he offered. But the roots will be a problem. The proximity of the trees beside it means their roots are probably intertwined. They've grown dependent on each other over the years, sharing space and soil on their excursion toward the sun.

So, I fertilized, waited and now watch helplessly as more needles litter the ground beneath it than cling to its thinning branches. Is it my imagination? Or do the trees beside it now lean slightly away. Not wanting to seem indifferent, but knowing the end is imminent and inevitable, they're moving forward. Continually growing, they focus on their own life and limb as the limbs between them gradually wither. I can't imagine how my yard will be with out that tree. I suppose I can replace it - but it won't be the same.

I'm afraid she's dying: a lovely, caring, woman who has graced my life for 42 of her 76 years. I had my suspicions some insidious disease was beginning its assault upon her when she came to stay with me 8 years ago shortly after my son was born. Mothers do that - help you get back on your feet, show you the ropes, love and support you in ways only a mother can.

But this time was different. Stove burners were left burning. Her keys, purse, jacket were always missing. Her eyes, usually shining bright with joy, were clouded by bouts of fear and confusion.

"It's hard to say," the doctor told us. Her advice was to medicate, watch and wait. Alzheimer's disease is difficult to diagnose and its degenerative course harder still to chart, but medication could delay the onset of certain symptoms. We know it won't save her. But we pray it's better than the alternative.

So we medicate, wait and watch helplessly as her mind slowly withers. At times one of us -- my sister, my dad or I, lean slightly away. Not out of indifference, but in despair, knowing the end is imminent and inevitable. Yet our love is so deep, our roots so intertwined. The prospect of her coming demise is at times unbearable.

It's difficult to imagine life without my mother -- the one who held my hand, who held me up, who always encouraged me. The one who, by the grace of God, gave me life. So now I must learn to lean on that grace - on my heavenly Father. I give Him my hand and He gives me hope of a future together with Mom in Heaven. This is what keeps me strong as she grows increasingly weak. For it is in Heaven, under God's healing hand, with His living water and everlasting light, that our lives will flourish in a way they never could on earth.

Death is a natural part of the cycle of life. And when we received God's invitation to become part of His family through a relationship with Jesus Christ, we have the assurance and hope of life together with God and our loved ones for all eternity.

Martha Stringer is a freelance writer living in Yardley, PA with her husband and three children. In addition to editing and writing a personal column for her church newsletter, she works part-time for a non-profit, social services agency. Contact her at

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