My mother has been seeking ‘quick fixes’ again. Alzheimer’s is leaving her empty and fragile, like an egg with the guts sucked out of it, and she is trying to fill the void with old, unhealthy friends.
For years she took Xanax and has been pleading for those like a seasoned junkie. And almost every night she’ll ask for a drink.
“I want you to pick me up a bottle of scotch,” she said, head buried in her pocketbook as she rummaged for money.
“You can’t drink, Ma.”
“Since when do you tell me what I can do?” she said.
“I’m not telling you, your doctors are telling you. You can’t drink with your medicine.”
“What medicine? I don’t take medicine.”
“Ma, enough. You can’t drink.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
I counted ten seconds of silence.
“Just get me vodka. I don’t like vodka. I won’t even drink it.”
The other day she added a new vice to her portfolio of requests; cigarettes, her companions of 30 years ago. We were in the car waiting at a red light when she slapped two dollars on the dashboard.
“I want to start smoking again. Can you stop somewhere and get me a pack of cigarettes?”
“First of all, I’m not buying you cigarettes,” I said. “And second, if I did, I’m pretty sure they cost a lot more than $2.00.”
What ensued was a full-blown, voices raised, Italian style fight. And what I learned through the screaming is something I knew but hoped my mother didn’t; that Alzheimer’s has robbed her of more than just her memory, it has robbed her of independence. She said she felt ‘worthless,’ and it cut right to my heart.
It was a raw and drizzly day out on the porch when my mother lit up her first cigarette in decades.
“There she is!" Dan said, coming out onto the porch. “Smokestacks Calhoun!”
My mother ignored him and took a long drag. Her face contorted. She took another, then held the cigarette at eye level, scrutinizing it.
“This is disgusting,” she said. “Get this away from me.”
She thrust the cigarette toward me as she walked passed and into the house.
The good news is she hated it and has not requested another since. The better news is, in this case, the decision was hers.