When my mother, Maggie Glascoe, started to show the symptoms of Alzheimer's, nobody in the family really noticed. None of us had any experience with this debilitating condition, or any real knowledge. Besides, my mother always had some oddball habits, and when these became exaggerated, I thought little more about it.
One of the earliest of these was what I took at first to be a comical tendency of repeatedly tossing my father's sweaters into the dryer where they shrunk into baby size. She knew full well that sweaters didn't go into the dryer, but when I asked her why she did it she said, "Oh, I just forgot." As it turned out, this wasn't just a case of forgetting that she had done it several times before, but of forgetting how to do a simple task.
When symptoms like this became more pronounced and impossible to ignore I felt like I had stepped into a horror show that was about to overwhelm both Maggie and me.
Every day I travelled across town to visit her living alone after my father's untimely death only to encounter one potentially calamitous mishap after another. Sometimes I found her apartment door wide open even though she wasn't at home, or a stove burner turned on full blast and left unattended, or Maggie just wandering the streets in her nightclothes.
Alzheimer's is a devastating medical condition. The enormity of Maggie's suffering was almost unbearable. The total burnout of our mother tore the family apart.
I was unable to tell the story of this experience until long after I reluctantly turned her over to the care of others. When she was in the late stages of the illness curled up in a fetal position and unable to communicate with me or anyone else, I realized in a panic that I knew much less about her than I thought. Who was this mute person laying before me? Who had she been when I was a child in her care? Who was this mother before I came into the world?
I was stricken by a compulsive urge to piece together the puzzle of Maggie Glascoe before she no longer knew who she was.
As it turned out, telling the story proved to be a therapeutic and profoundly illuminating antidote to the grief of losing her. Ironically and tragically, the engagement with Alzheimer's hammered home not only the incredible fragility, but also the extraordinary mystery of what we call our identity.
Author of "Nobody Knew She Was There"
Andrew Glascoe was born in Scotland and immigrated to Toronto with his parents in the 1960s. He is a philosopher, poet, art critic, writer, and teacher. He lives with his family in Ontario, Canada.
"Nobody Knew She Was There"
By Andrew Glascoe
"Nobody Knew She Was There" is the true story of a mother who rose to the challenges of surviving the Second World War with family intact, lived an intensely passionate and deeply troubled personal life afterward, endured the perils of cultural displacement, and suffered the loss of her identity as she drifted toward an agonizingly slow death from an affliction that stole her mind. (Read More at Amazon)