Gratitude When It’s Not Expected

I’m grateful for the way Alzheimer’s is affecting my mom’s brain.

I attended a Moth Story Slam last night here in Asheville. I love these events. Hearing people tell stories. Being in the presence of vulnerability. Feeling the support of the community as people reveal their joy, their sadness, their fears.

The theme this month was “Gratitude.” I thought about preparing a story to share, and then sitting with mom for four hours after a run in with the dining hall manager, spending two hours at the bank dealing with dad’s estate, and writing thank you notes took precedence and the story was never practiced, though it resided in my thoughts.

A few weeks ago, I heard some women my mom’s age talk about their “eggshell daughters.” I had never heard this term and asked, “What’s that mean?” They explained that though they loved their daughters tremendously, they felt like they always had to walk on eggshells around them – the tiniest thing would start an incident.

“Hm,” I thought. I wondered if my mom considered me an eggshell daughter. It wouldn’t surprise me.

See, we clashed for a considerable amount of years from when I was a tween to when I was a grown adult. I never felt approval from her. I would bring home an “A” on a paper, and she’d ask me why wasn’t it an “A+”? When I quit my NC teaching job to move to CA (with no job in hand) she told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life, and why would I ever give up a steady job with benefits, and I would be on the streets for sure and she wouldn’t be there to help me. When I divorced, she told me that I would never, ever find someone as good as him (she really liked my first husband).

I loved my mom deeply, and it was so incredibly hard to be around her sometimes. Many times.

And now, it’s not.

I hate that my mom has Alzheimer’s. It’s a devastating disease. Moment by moment you watch as a loved one’s brain dies. I would never wish this disease on anyone.

And, I love spending time with my mom now. She doesn’t remember to be acerbic. She doesn’t remember to criticize. She doesn’t hold grudges, and we live every day in the moment. We have fun together. We go to events, and art galleries, and sit on the porch and rock, and cry, and remember dad. We tell each other, “I love you” often and openly.

Yes, we have the same conversation multiple times in an evening. Tonight she asked me seventeen times what tomorrow was and did we have any plans. And seventeen times I happily told her that tomorrow was Saturday, we didn’t have anything planned, but if she wanted to do something, she could push the button on her phone that direct dials me and we would do it. And on Sunday we would go to a neighbor’s art show.

And it doesn’t bother me. I honestly can approach every question as if it is the first time she is asking, because there is no negativity anymore, and I’m so grateful for that.

And, yes, I’ve spent several therapy sessions over the guilt that I feel because I’m so happy with our relationship now, and I don’t know that it would have ever been possible without her succumbing to this terrible disease.

I’m so incredibly grateful that my most recent memories of my mom are moments of joy, and laughter, and lightness, and love. I’ve heard stories of how people’s personalities change when they have Alzheimer’s, and mostly it’s going from being really kind and sweet to being really mean and nasty people. And even though fifty years were difficult with a mom who was critical and withheld affection, the past six months have completely changed my perception of my mom, and I’m so thankful to share this bond with her, even though it’s a result of her brain dying. And that is what I think of when I think of gratitude.

75 thoughts on “Gratitude When It’s Not Expected

  1. Such a warm thing to read. This made me appreciate my mom more and value what we have. Thank you for sharing this. May your heart be blessed.

  2. Lori
    Such a wonderful article full of identical scenarios. My mother had breast cancer that went to her brain. So, lots of symptoms that were similar. I wish I had been a better daughter and I found, like my mother, that every day was a new day and that some day I would laugh. It’s hard, it hurts, but someday you will laugh as you tell these stories.

  3. I love your honesty. My dad had Alzheimer’s but it never completely took over his brain because cancer took his life first. I had a very contentious relationship with him, but when I found out about the diseases that plagued him, I learned to forgive him and for that, I am so grateful. I hope writing about it also helps you heal – I know when I wrote about forgiving my father, it helped tremendously. xoxo

  4. Oh my! You’re a beautiful person! Thank you for sharing this. May you grow stronger and love your mum a bit more everyday 💖

  5. A very loving way to see the bright side of a brutal illness. I’m reconnecting with my own mom in a similar way, it makes our time together seem so innocent, joyful, and heart wrenching at the same time. Thanks for writing.

  6. Oh wow, my story is almost EXACTLY the same! I was definitely an ‘eggshell’ daughter- my poor Mum. I ran off to Australia when I was 19, and it was 4 years till she saw me again- no mobiles/no Skype/no emails, just those folded paper aerogrammes once a month. Then another EIGHT years till I visited the UK again… poor Mum. We fought and fought and fought. Or rather, I fought her. Now I’m 53, she’s 83, and dementia has been claiming her for a few years. I’ve flown back to England every year to spend time with her, and we laugh, sing reggae songs and Frank Sinatra ballads, while I cook her all the fresh food I can get into her (she hated to cook). She has no memory of how much we fought, or how dramatically different our characters are; she can’t remember all the terrible things that happened to her, and how that twisted her journey through life. In a way, she’s liberated. And so am I. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this post, I salute your courage and honesty. KInd regards from Australia (Mum’s now in a wonderful nursing home in Wales where I can call her every fortnight or so, and try to make sense of her word salads), G ❤

  7. Reblogged this on bone&silver and commented:
    I admit: I was an ‘eggshell’ daughter. Sorry Mum. This blog post just resonated with me so much, I had to share it. My story with my Mum is almost exactly the same; not an easy read, but so honest. My dear Mum is now totally liberated from the memory of how poorly we got on, and all the terrible things that happened to her during her lifetime. She’s free. And I’m so relieved, for us both ❤

  8. I love perspective on what you are going through. Im happy you found peace where most find anguish. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  9. Thanks for sharing the gratitude side of a terrible disease. I’ve been learning to let go of criticism masquerading as advice so maybe my daughter and I will have more good years. Thinking of your years with your mother before her mind freed her of certain worries to enjoy your time together.

  10. So moving and I love that term. My sister and I are eggshell daughters for sure! We both have issues with our mum that unite us against her, for she has failed us in so many ways as a mother. Objectively I can san that she did her best, but for years I said to myself, ‘well her best was just not good enough.’ She’s done so much damage, been responsible for major self-esteem issues and also at least one attempted suicide. She’s a major contributor, if nothing else. But then I see her, vulnerable and mostly deaf, after a recent car accident. Now in hospital, lucky to be alive. I agree that your gratitude is meaningful and the slate wiped clean is a blessing. Thank you for such a moving piece.

  11. I really love this it’s so relatable…my mom isn’t sick and I pry to god she never will be. I too felt like everything I did was wrong in her eyes I still do sometimes if I’m honest. I’m 25 now and finally learnt to walk away. It’s not always easy and I don’t always know how but it’s stories like yours that make me say “at least I still have my mommy who is healthy 💜💜. Thank for sharing!!!🙏🏽

  12. Your perspective helps broaden my mind on the issue of Alzheimer. My dad has it (as had my grandmother). His health is deteriorating slowly, and he has become tamer in his later years. He used to be very abusive when I was young, and I had also gone to countless therapy session to deal with the “forgive and forget” issue.

    I don’t wish for the Alzheimer disease to befallen on him, or on anyone. There is a certain chance that I, too, will walk down the same path one of these days. Nevertheless, I’m content with our relationship now that he is calmer and more peaceful.

    Thank you for the post. It did took a lot of burden off my mind.


    Thanh Dinh

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  14. I came across your lovely post at the perfect time for me–thank you. My mother was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few days ago. We’re at an early stage of this journey together, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have our own moments for gratitude. Wishing you and your mother well.

  15. That was beautiful, but equally painful to read. My mother suffers from dementia and it’s been a difficult adjustment for me, living 6 hours away. Having to tell her that I’m her son and that I’m married with four children makes me want to cry, especially when I’ve said it 2 or 3 times prior in the conversation.

    When I finally hang up, that’s when I lose it.

    Still, I make the most of every moment and never miss an opportunity to tell her how much I love her and that she is my queen.

    I may eventually blog about it as well.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. I know this might be difficult but I think it’s amazing that you and your mother have connected no matter what the past was. Everything moves in a mysterious way and for whatever reason that brought you together be thankful for it you shouldn’t feel guilty for loving your mom and getting along with her. The past is behind you leave it there.

  17. I love this post.

    And I completely get it. My mom and I have bonded since her dementia, as well. I’m glad I’m not alone living this perspective.

  18. Thank you for sharing this! A lot of wisdom is had in your reflection on a situation you could easily complain (and no one would blame you) about. Instead you look at it through the lens of growth and gratitude. Inspirational!

  19. This is so very well said!! This has such power and meaning to it with such honesty. Thank you for sharing your story! As a chemical engineering student, I was interested in studying treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s and dementia. I didn’t know how it really was though as I have never personally experienced it. Thank you for your story.

  20. Alzheimer’s has afflicted so many older women in my family. Thank you for your honest sharing of your new time with your mother. I laughed when you mentioned you happily repeated the same thing 17 times. I appreciate that approach, and I hope I never have to try that.

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  22. This brought tears to eyes😪 I wished to have a chance like yours with my dad, to put things in a way if not fully but I lost him. 😢😢. I wish you all the best with your mum. Be strong for her

    • Thank you! I would guess that Alzheimer’s disease affects every family differently, so this is just one example. I feel very lucky that right now Mom is still mobile, so that we can take walks together.

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