Author Carmie Renda shares her and her family’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease, and what the experience taught her about unconditional love. Learn more.
My mother, Mary Rose Renda, was my everything, but at the end, I don’t really think she knew I was her daughter. I was just a nice lady from the care center she lived in, a nice lady who came to see her every evening, until her passing on May 25, 2014.
My mom and I had a special relationship. I’m not saying she loved me more than my sister; it’s just that I required more love and attention. My father died when I was ten, and that’s when I remember Mom taking extra care of me. I was afraid that something was going to happen to Mom, too. My heart ached, and my dreams were nightmares. I would wake in the middle of the night crying. She’d ask me what was wrong, and when I told her about the bad dreams and how I worried about her, she always let me join her in her bed. This went on for years, and we developed a unique bond.
Years later, my sister Ginny and I noticed something wasn’t right with Mom. It began in 1995, and over the next five years, Mom experienced forgetfulness, mood swings and other early signs of Alzheimer’s. One day, she refused to leave the house. I decided I would take her with me to the grocery store, and when we got there, a panic attack set in. Mom stood there shaking, crying and insisting we leave. I could not fully understand her condition, and it frightened me.
From 2000-2010, my sister and I watched our mother change from Mom into our little girl. We were very dedicated to her care; Ginny retired to be with her every day. We took Mom to a geriatrics specialist who did a series of tests. The sad conclusion was that Mom had Alzheimer’s, and there wasn’t any treatment or way to stop the disease from progressing.
Some nights Mom would dream there was a man in the house. Sometimes she wouldn’t know where she was. She’d show up by my bed, crying and confused. I always put her in bed with me and gave her hugs and kisses. These episodes just broke my heart.
One day, I decided to take Mom by the home where Ginny and I were raised. When we got to the neighborhood, I stopped in front of our former home and asked her if she remembered it. She just stared out the window with a blank look on her face. How sad it was to see my mom, this little girl, sitting in my car playing with her tissues!
Dressing Mom became an adventure. Sometimes, she would go to her room and put on layers of clothing in no particular order. Panties and bras could be over her pants and shirts, and trying to get her to remove them was always a challenge.
One afternoon I went downstairs, leaving Mom sleeping in her chair. When I returned, Mom was gone. Oh my God! I panicked. Ginny came out to see what I was upset about, and then took me to the garage. There was Mom — sitting in the backseat of the van waiting to go somewhere, anywhere. This went on for a while, too.
In the spring of 2009, my sister Ginny was hospitalized. I had no idea what I was going to do with Mom while I worked. At first, I took her to work with me, which was quite a chore. I would get her up, clean her and feed her breakfast. Then I would pack a lunch and we’d head off to work. She would straighten out my desk and help with all sorts of duties.
When Ginny’s hospital stay turned out to be more than a couple of days, I had to find someone to care for Mom during the day. I called all sorts of organizations and was told it was going to be $25-30 an hour for in-home care. I was shocked to learn that there were so few facilities to care for the elderly. I finally found an adult day care. On my first call, I was told they could put her on their waiting list, but after I explained my situation, they managed to find a spot for Mom. What a blessing!
In February, 2010, my mother fell and broke her hip. While recovering physically, her Alzheimer’s progressed. We were told she was in the last stages of the disease, and we really could not care for her at home any longer. Her doctor suggested we keep her in the nursing home, so for the last four years of Mom’s life, Ginny and I visited her every day to spend time with and help care for her.
Mom’s moods could go from happy to nasty before you even knew what was happening. I came to realize that physical contact like hugging helped her change her moods. When Mom was in a bad mood, I gave her hugs and kisses, and most of the time, her mood would change.
Speech also became a problem for Mom. She didn’t use words and seemed to have a language of her own. We still pretended we knew what she was saying, although we had no idea.
Mom loved music, so at the nursing home, I often held hands with her and sang songs I knew she liked. Mom didn’t really know the words anymore, but she seemed to recognize the tunes, and singing made her very happy.
For Christmas one year, I bought her a baby doll, and in time, she collected four “babies.” Mom loved them and was never without one on her lap. She talked to them and rocked them. She even tried to feed them, and sometimes this included nursing them!
My mother taught me how to love and how to live my life from my first day on earth until the day she died. I miss her smile, her wink, her touch and her smooth peach skin. Although some time has passed since she died, I still feel such emptiness without her. Her experience with Alzheimer’s taught me what unconditional love truly means.
The disease first altered my mom’s mind. As time went on, she lost her memories of all the love, fun and sorrows that had gone by. As her daughter and caregiver, I really missed the mom I’d grown up with. Watching the progression of this disease is dreadful, which I know anyone who is a caretaker of someone with Alzheimer’s can understand. So many people give up so much to care for parents or spouses, and it’s hard for those who haven’t experienced it to understand just how brutal and humbling it can be.
Sharing my experiences has been important to me. When I was alone with my mother in January 2010 — before her fall and about fifteen years after she first started showing signs of Alzheimer’s — I kept a journal I called, “Home Alone with Mom.” I emailed friends a daily account of what Mom was up to; and these accounts were full of the humor I found in the challenges I faced every day with her. My friends responded to my accounts and encouraged me to write more. The book I eventually completed, “My Mother, My Friend, My Child,” includes my journal as well as Mom’s life story, her struggles and the emotional roller coaster we all went on as she lived with Alzheimer’s. My book is now available on Amazon.
About the Author:
Carmie Renda is the author of: “My Mother, My Friend, My Child,” which is available on Amazon.com. The book is adapted from a journal she wrote during the ten days she was alone with her mother in 2010. Through the encouragement of friends, Carmie reworked the journal to reflect her mother’s life, both before and after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Carmie grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. After graduating from Saint Joseph Academy, she married and raised three children. She worked as a hair stylist until she became a real estate agent in 1984. Ten years later, she became a loan officer doing home mortgages and worked for several banks in the Des Moines area until her retirement in 2011.
Carmie is enjoying retirement. She loves spending time with friends and family, cooking, knitting, traveling and going to her book club and writers’ workshop.
Are you a caregiver for a parent with Alzheimer’s? What has this experience taught you? We would like to hear your story. Share yours in the comments below.
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