Author Jean Lee faced the bizarre coincidence of having both her parents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on the very same day. She wrote about this in her book, Alzheimer’s Daughter. Her parents had married on a five-day furlough during WWII and remained passionate about their relationship until their last breaths 60 years later. Jean says, “The blessing of their dual diagnosis was that they faded away together.” In the following excerpt from her book, where she, her sister Annette and her dad face the ultimate loss of her mother, we find out how Jean could call this a blessing:
“Around dinnertime, the Hospice doctor spoke with us explaining that a blood infection had started in Mom’s foot. It was something simple that anyone would be able to fight off with a normally functioning immune system but since Mom had stopped eating and drinking, she had no body reserves with which to battle this infection. It would end her life. They acknowledged Mom was having difficulty letting go. Hospice advised us to leave Mom alone during the night so she could come to terms with her own passing, promising to call us at any turning point.
We brought Dad to visit one last time that evening. He whispered sweet things and kissed Mom on the cheek. However, seeing her waxy-faced without her smile, and unconscious without recognition of him––he was confused.
As we walked with him back to his room, he asked, ‘Is that my mother?’
We replied, ‘No, Dad, that’s Ibby. The angels are taking her to heaven.’
My sister Annette and I sat on either side of her bed. Her head was turned toward the window, even though it was still dark. As gray dawn came into the sky, her eyes were open just a slit. The Lodge was waking up. Aides came to say their goodbyes and tell her they loved her.
A favorite aide brought Dad to Mom. He stood by the bed, held and stroked Mom’s hand. We knew he wanted to be closer––one last time. We lowered the rails. He leaned his body into hers and kissed her dry lips, whispering, ‘Ibby, I love you.’
Nearly seven decades before, Edwin Church had kissed Elizabeth Naegle at the end of a roller coaster ride in the dark tunnel of love––he now gave Ibby her last kiss. Caressing her cheek, then straightening to stand––shaking and bewildered, Dad looked at us. Annette and I hugged him. The aide approached, putting her arm around his waist to steady him and asked, “Ed, do you want to go back to your room?” He nodded.
Annette and I stayed, leaned over her bed on either side, holding her hands and holding hands with each other, completing a circle. We told her what a wonderful mother she’d been to us. We told her she’d been an amazing grandmother to our children. We told her she’d made us the women we were today. We told her she was beautiful and smelled so sweet. Lastly, we said, “We’ll take care of Dad until you can be together again in heaven.”
With every exhale she labored, as if more and more of her soul was expelled with each respiration. The circle from birth to death was now completing itself.
Annette and I stayed in the sanctuary-like quiet of the room, hearing only our own breathing, stroking her skin, knowing Mom was gone but not wanting our time with her to end.
What was left of Mom was simply her earthly shell. I had seen her birth her soul to heaven.
I returned to the locked unit to get her glasses and dentures. As I walked through those locked metal security doors knowing I had to tell my dad that Mom was gone, I did so with my back erect and a large stride, having great peace, telling myself my mother was now free and restored. She’d never have to live behind locked doors again.
When I entered Mom and Dad’s room, he struggled to stand. I hugged him, smiled and said, ‘Dad, Mom has gone to heaven.’
With a mystical expression on his face, he replied, ‘Really? I just saw her. She came to tell me she’d wait for me there.’”
Jean Lee lives with her husband in small-town Ohio, twenty minutes from anything. Although she worked full time while her parents were ill, she is now retired after twenty-two years of teaching elementary school. Her children are married with children of their own. Five grandchildren are her greatest blessings.
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