Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question

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.


  1. So glad you've come back! I've been so looking forward to you resuming your posts. :)

    I'm sorry that your mother is trying to fill the void with immediate satisfactions, but it seems to be a really good thing that she made the decision to refrain from smoking on her own. I admire your diligence. Keep it going! :)

  2. Welcome back!

    I admire your tenacity in standing up for your mother and her health in light of these "new" vices. I'm very glad she was able to come to the conclusion that smoking wasn't the way to go on her own.


  3. Good idea to let her have the smoke . And so glad she decided she did not like it. Mom used to get mad at me while we were driving and try to open the car do and get out. She would yell
    " I walking home!" The fact that we were in the middle of traffic did not seem to enter her mind. My son would put his finger on the lock and hold it done from the back seat. She could not figure out why the door would not open. Don't know what I would of done without him.

  4. Welcome back! We've missed you!

    The fact that she made the decision on her own is great. It may not seem like it to her, but she does have a measure of independence. She knew that it was bad and she stopped. What a blessing!

  5. In that moment of time she needed to assert her independence. It's nice that she was able to.
    I'm glad you're back!

  6. Well does this mean I need to get this stupid disease to get back to my old vices? HUMPH. Glad the old gal got to light up another one for old times sake. Happier to know that it tasted aweful (which will relieve any occassional thought of "just little drag").

  7. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I laughed out loud and also felt immense sadness as I read your post about your mom's quest for quick fixes as she faces this excrutiating sentence of dementia while still having some level of awareness. In fact, reflecting on it as I sit here alone, I feel tears coming freely, because what you wrote captures so much of that journey.

    It's a wonderful thing you're doing to have your mom come live with you and your husband. I'm going to look through your archives and read the whole story. Both my parents have been gone for years (Dad when I was 11, Mom when I was 23), but the title of your blog immediately hooked me. I "left my life" as a new nurse when my mom's cancer became terminal (as if it ever wasn't) to care for her for the last few months of her life. My vision of myself as a daughter has been impacted since that experience. But one thing for sure, caring for her those last few months was one of the best things I've ever done, and something for which I'm eternally grateful. You'll never regret a second of this experience.

  8. I was so happy when I read she'd decided not to smoke after all. (Doesn't mean she won't ask for them again in a few days, mind you.) For that brief time, you gave her back her independence. My guess is that wasn't an easy decision for you.

    Straight From Hel

  9. Lisa, you handled that beautifully! And if she wants to smoke a cigarette--let her!

  10. Hey Lisa,

    A very sweet post. Great to have you back.
    I'm very interested to here what you have to say about the Time Magazine Article about AD being fatal. There is a big NEJM article coming out on the subject.

  11. Thank you everyone for the warm welcome back and for your comments. I am so blessed to have such support! The Merits are in a plastic baggie hidden and waiting for their next act. We'll see what happens. No mention of them yet so far!

    Joe, I'll check your blog for the article. I'll post it here in my blog as well...

  12. Hello Lisa! I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for following! Have a wonderful Thursday,

  13. Count me among the many who are glad to see you back. How great that you gave your mother the power to make a decision and she eventually made the right one. Having a little control must have gone a long way for her. Fine writing as usual, too. I love the jump from your mother's words cutting your heart to "It was a raw and drizzly day out on the porch when my mother lit up her first cigarette in decades."

  14. Thank you Laurel! I was worried about that abrupt transition but I am glad you say it worked :-)

  15. What a beautiful blog. I'll add it to my try-to-keep-up-with list. I hope you're finding ways to take care of and pamper yourself through this.

  16. I can completely relate to having the things she says cut to the bone. Early on, my mom often said she was "stupid." She was an intellectual, a reader, very smart, and so when she could feel those abilities slipping, it made her feel terrible. Your mom sounds like one very tough cookie...