Long Story Short: Supporting caregivers and those they care for

I was shopping with friends in the beauty supply store when I got the call. It was my baby brother.
He’s 30 now.
It’s probably time to stop calling him “the baby.”
But I’m not quite there yet.
He’s a rabid college football fan. I knew if he was calling me in the middle of a Saturday afternoon during football season, something was wrong.
“Have you talked to Mama?” he said.
“No,” I answered, quickly looking at my phone and realizing I had missed her call that morning.
During those next few seconds, I held my breath. I knew something was wrong. Whatever he said next would decide a lot about life.
“Something happened yesterday. Something’s wrong with her. She can’t remember things,” he said.
I took a deep breath.
He proceeded to tell what had happened in the bits and pieces a 30-year-old guy does. I was standing there with a blue bottle of shampoo specially formulated for fine hair, listening to him, knowing this wasn’t good.
We hung up. I was grateful for his call and was on a mission to talk to my mom.
I called and called and got no answer. She and my dad live four hours away. I started contemplating putting the shampoo bottle down and getting in my car and driving to Mississippi. Finally, I got her on the line.
She told me what had happened.
And it didn’t sound good.
My mother is only 67. She’s in great shape. This was not supposed to be happening. From what she said, I thought she had probably had a mini-stroke. She definitely had difficulty in remembering things and was clearly shaken.
As we talked, she was lucid, but I could tell she was working extra hard to convince me she was better than she really was.
We both knew what we were saying – and what we were not saying.
My grandmother, her mother, had suffered from “hardening of the arteries,” for nearly 20 years. We, along with my aunts, uncles and cousins had helped take care of her.
It was a horrible, horrible thing. Today’s doctors would call what my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. It, as many readers know all too well, is and was a nightmare.
Since that call, my family and I have danced a careful conversational choreography. None of us wanted to say certain things, and I am not certain saying them would have served a purpose – except maybe to evaporate the elephant in the room.
Even though my mother has tried her best, she has not been herself. Part of her problem has been trying to put such a good face forward for the rest of us.
This week, a team of physicians thoroughly examined her and determined that she suffered a mini-stroke. They called what followed it transient global amnesia, a condition which causes an almost total short-term memory loss – and whose defining characteristic is that it is temporary.
We are grateful for the diagnosis, but the weight of our fears has been a reminder to me of the importance of outside support to those suffering from Alzheimer’s — and their caregivers.

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