Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease that ultimately steals who you are by obliterating your memories and causing your brain to forget how to do the most fundamental things. In the advances stages, you don’t know what a fork is, how to pick it up, how to use it. You don’t know how to use the bathroom, feed or dress yourself. You forget how to walk. You no longer recognize your spouse, your kids, people you once loved.
My mother suffered from this disease for a decade.
For her, it began slowly – she forgot the names of old friends, became confused about how to drive to the mall in the city where she and my dad had lived for 30 years. She was a consummate bridge player and excelled at it, but eventually couldn’t remember what moves to make when, what cards to play, none of it made sense to her.
She began to believe people were stealing from her. One night she called me in a panic and said she couldn’t find her wedding ring. She believed the woman who cleaned their home once a week had stolen it. “Could you ask your psychic friend Millie where my ring is?” she asked.
“Sure, Mom,” I replied. “But have you looked in your bathroom?” I knew that when she washed her face at night, she often removed her ring and placed it at the edge of the sink.
“I’ve looked everywhere. Please ask Millie.”
Millie has been a friend since she first did a psychic reading for me in 1992. She’s the real deal, the daughter of a West Virginia psychic, a woman who, by her own admission, “sees” things. So I called Millie. She saw my mother’s ring in a cabinet under the sink, where she had stashed it. “So the cleaning lady wouldn’t steal it,” Millie added.
I called my mother and told her what Millie had said. Sure enough, my mother found her wedding ring exactly where Millie had said it was.
As the disease progressed and my dad attempted to care for her, things got worse. One time, Rob, Megan, and I were camping somewhere and my dad called me in a panic. My mother, his wife of nearly 50 years, had just called the cops to report a strange man in her bedroom. The strange man was my father. We left the campsite within the hour and drove south to my parents’ house and calmed my mother down.
As these episodes became more frequent and dramatic, more troubling, it was obvious that my dad could no longer care for her by himself. They sold their home and moved into an independent living apartment in the town where they lived. That lasted about six months. My dad developed Parkinson’s. My sister and her husband suggested they move in with them, in a suburb of Atlanta.
My sister, Mary, is a nurse, and this arrangement seemed like a good fit. We drove my parents to Roswell, Georgia, and helped them move in. My brother-in-law had built an addition to the house for my parents and that arrangement lasted until nine months later, when my dad called and said the arrangement wasn’t working out very well. Could we find them an assisted living facility in Boca Raton, the town where they had lived for more than 30 years?
So we did. At every step in this journey, we reached a crisis before anything happened.
One really dark day in June 1999, my dad and I took my mother out to lunch, then drove her to an Alzheimer’s unit about five miles from where Rob, Megan, and I lived at the time. We told her she was going to a place where she would receive additional treatment, but we didn’t say what she was being treated for. She knew we were lying and sobbed the entire way to the facility.
My dad moved in with us. For the next two and a half years, we visited her nearly every day, and this was when things became truly strange and I began to understand a facet of Alzheimer’s that is rarely mentioned.
She would tell us that her sisters or brothers or her mother had dropped by to say hello. At this time, her four siblings were already dead. Her mother had died on July 20, 1969, the day Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Early on, I tried to reason with her about these visitations. Not possible, Mom, they’re all dead. But she was so adamant about these visitations I finally stopped trying to convince her otherwise.
Then, in early 2001, our friend Millie was visiting and she and I went over to the facility to visit my mom. She was in high spirits that day. She said her younger brother had just dropped by. “Oh, is that Dick?” Millie asked.
I looked over at Millie, shocked that she knew his name. “Yes, yes,” my mother said. “My beautiful little brother.”
“Well,” said Millie, who ‘sees’ things. “He’s sitting there at the foot of your bed.” And she described his physical appearance.
Right then, I realized that my mother, a lapsed Catholic who feared death, was actually seeing her dead relatives. I suddenly understood a spiritual component of this disease. It’s a way to experience the afterlife without actually going there. You get your feet wet, learn the lay of the land. When she said her dead relatives were visiting her, they were. Alzheimer’s enabled her to test out the afterlife without actually crossing over and when she finally felt comfortable with that world, she moved on.
There are certainly physical triggers for this disease, but the spiritual component is, I think a vital component, a portal into the afterlife.
Sheila Joshi, a clinical psychologist, wrote a great essay on dementia/Alzheimer’s and psi.