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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What is Real?

My mother's breast cancer is in remission.

Before the chemo treatments began nearly two years ago, I spoke with my father about my mother needing to have a number of neurological tests. I outlined her lifetime of irrational behaviors, discussed the years of emotionally and physically abusive acts, and talked about her current unexplained memory loss, inability to manage money (for the first time in her life), time incognizance, and her random inappropriate statements. He agreed with me, but wouldn't take the initiative to get the testing done when Mom finished her chemo and radiation. Part of this was because he was exhausted, but another part of it was because my mother experienced a complete personality change during the cancer treatments. He no longer knew who she was.

Fortunately, as her hair grew back and she lost the weight gained through prescribed steroids, Mom seemed to become herself again and life for my parents went back to normal. The memory lapses, however, became more frequent, and there was an inordinate increase in the number of fabricated realities my mother reiterated to any who would listen.

When my nephew was baptized in October, he asked my mom to speak at his baptism. My mother prepares for any speaking assignment with a thoroughness which includes memorizing scriptures, studying for weeks, and practicing the finished product in front of a mirror--many, many times. At the baptism, however, it seemed she had not even known she was supposed to speak (she had been asked three weeks prior). Her words were a listing of random thoughts as she moved between topics loosely related to baptism. Finally, she talked about how Christ was baptized in the River Jordan, paused for a moment, then said to my nephew, "You know, it's only been in the past few years that people have stopped being baptized outside in rivers and streams. Why don't you ask your Grandpa where he was baptized?"

There was a long pause after my nephew obediently asked the question, then my father said slowly, "Well, I was baptized in a baptismal font, in a church just like this one."

My mother looked stunned. She clumsily regrouped and finally finished speaking. It was obvious that my father's answer was not what she had expected, and that in her memory he was definitely one of those ancient river-baptized people...never mind the fact that his baptism took place in the dead of winter, in a valley which averages 4-6 feet of snow on the ground from November to April, all the rivers, streams, or lakes would be completely iced over, and just in case they were able to make some sort of hole in them, the lucky person who was baptized there would die of hypothermia.

I believe that was the first big wake-up call.

The second came a couple of weeks later. My parents were visiting a new grandchild when my mother had a mini-stroke. This finally catalyzed the long overdue testing I'd been begging for.

Today we know the following:
1. Alzheimer's cannot currently be diagnosed nor ruled out. She definitely is exhibiting symptoms, but if she has it, the progression is not to the point where a definitive diagnosis can be made.
2. She has sleep apnea which is causing some heart problems and also interfering with her cognitive powers.
3. The neural transmitters in her brain hemispheres do not align with each other, causing cessation or incomplete transfer of information, and inability to store memories which slip through the cracks.

Number three is the Big Deal.

The doctors believe she has had more than one mini-stroke (medical term: TIA), but they don't believe the strokes have caused the disruption in her brain--rather, they believe the mini-strokes are a symptom of that problem. They also believe the misalignment of neural impulses has been a lifelong malady which is becoming worse. It could be a genetic defect, or have been caused through extreme trauma or head injury. I vote the latter.

My mother has staunchly denied that her father (alcoholic) abused her, but her behavior throughout her life is that of a severely abused child. Mom does not deny that her siblings were regularly beaten up. They say she was a victim, as well. Her body has signs of trauma which have developed into unusual back and joint problems, she has severe stress disorders, she cannot process emotions in natural ways. My mother, on her best days, lives in a fantasy world fraught with spiritual miracles, days where nothing goes wrong (even when it does), extravagant shopping sprees, and constant eating because she cannot remember whether or not she has had breakfast. In short, she creates her own reality so that she doesn't have to live with the pain of her past.

That last part sounds a tiny bit familiar.

My father and I are in the process of removing her name and ability to access funds from our business. He has given power of attorney to me and a couple of my sisters in the event of his death, rather than my mother. So far we've had little resistance from her. Right now she is docile and willing to work with the doctors, try medications, and learn more about what is happening inside her head.

Yesterday my mother remembered lovely experiences she and I once had...that never happened. I listened, smiled, nodded, and thanked her for reminding me. Part of me hopes that she will forget the ways she terrorized my young life. Those black memories leave her feeling monstrous, helplessly understanding that she harmed an innocent child. I hope, with all my heart, that she will forget, that she will create beautiful memories of sharing sunlit days with her small daughter. And however wrong this choice might be--I will help her do it.

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