Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
"I will still love you - even when I don't know who you are."
This is a promise I make to my teenage daughter before she goes to bed. It is an assurance that we both understand.
Promising to love someone no matter what isn't uncommon. Promising to love them even after you've forgotten who they are might sound silly or even surreal, unless you live in what I've come to know as an Alzheimer's family. I live in such a family.
Sometimes my mom no longer recognizes her firstborn. That would be me.
She looks at my face with clear eyes and makes the declaration: "I've never seen you before."
She doesn't ask who I am or what my name might be because I offer the information before she ever gets the chance. I can't help myself. It's the knee jerk reflex one gets when forgotten by one's mother.
I make light of the moment. I point to a photo of me that is hanging on her refrigerator. She looks at it, then me, and nods. Yes, she acknowledges that I am on her fridge. But like a child on a milk carton, the face on the fridge is lost. She does not believe that I am Jill. Sometimes she thinks she is Jill.
For the moment, none of it matters. We can still talk and laugh. She tells me stories I have heard over and over and I listen, again, as if for the first time.
We hug often. We never used to do that - before. We are Scandinavians, after all. When it is time for me to leave I say, "I love you, Mom."
Even though love flowed freely through our family for as long as I can remember, these words, like the hugs, are not familiar to us. We were not ones to speak about feelings. It was okay then, but I welcome the change now.
"I love you, too." The words trip easily off my mom's tongue, and I know, not for the first time, that Alzheimer's is a disease that gives as well as takes. She may not know my name, but she loves me - still - and at this moment that is enough.
On the best days, I make light of the situation. I am able to see it for what it is. My mom has Alzheimer's. Sometimes she doesn't remember me. One way to cope is with humor. So, because of the genetic preponderance of the disease (my mom is the third in her family to have it) I tell my daughter that I will love her - still - when my time comes. We are joking, of course, but at the base is a serious understanding we both comprehend.
On other days, humor doesn't come so easily. On the worst days, I cry. Because, even though Alzheimer's gives the occasional gift, it steals like no thief ever could. On some days my mom has lost me. Every single day, in some very real, very horrible ways, I have lost her already.
So I cry. Then I laugh. And whenever I can, I hug her real tight. Because right now, I have my mom with me in the physical sense, and that's not just some little thing. It's what I have - still.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning writer and syndicated columnist. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached at
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