“I want my mom to die from COVID-19 and this is why…
It occurred to me, as I jumped up and down and waved my arms like a lunatic, that I likely resembled a castaway on a desert island signaling SOS to a passing rescue plane. Hello! HELLO!!!
But I was simply trying to catch a glimpse of my Alzheimer’s mama from the double-paned bedroom window of her memory care facility. That’s the extent of our visits these days; I can’t even hold her hand.
The ‘Due to COVID-19, no visitors are allowed’ sign posted at the entryway might act as a legitimate excuse for absenteeism to some. ‘Whew, I’m off the hook to visit mom/dad/grandma/grandma/etc. for a while.’ Not me. My soul feels bare without her. I truly feel no less love for my mother than the two babies who grew inside my own body, and it kills me to be apart.
Yet… I hope this virus is the end for her.
The proclamation is bold. Preposterous. Some may say shameful. Hateful! But if you knew her, you would understand.
For 23 years, my mother worked as a unit clerk in a county-run nursing home where she saw the nitty-gritty reality of Alzheimer’s Disease. (In high school, I once jokingly called it ‘old-timer’s’ and she glared at me with an acidic look.) She always had a genuine, empathetic soft spot for the elderly and told many stories about them during her decades there. One particularly disturbing incident was when she panicked seeing a diabetic man munching on a chocolate bar but soon realized it was no Hershey’s. She often spoke of a woman who had beautiful violet eyes and an impeccable wardrobe. But Mom knew the ugly truth. She sh*ts her pants just like the rest of them; they were just more fashionable pants.
After a particularly difficult shift, Mom would come home so disheartened, she practically lifted me off the ground by my shirt bunched up in her fist. ‘Say you’ll shoot me then dump my body in a river if I am ever like those poor people. Don’t let me live like that,’ she shrieked, tears streaming down her face. ‘Promise me, promise me!’
Had fifty-year-old Mom looked into a crystal ball and saw seventy-seven-year-old Mom suffering as she is, I am certain she would’ve Thelma and Louis-ed herself off a cliff when the first symptoms began or washed down all her high blood pressure medication at once with a chocolate malt or driven her Mitsubishi Galant with the ‘My West Highland Terrier is smarter than your honor student’ bumper sticker straight into a lake. Something quick, something effective.
Never in a million years did she want to live as she is. I knew that for a fact. Her current situation was literally her life’s worst-case scenario.
She would be excruciatingly mortified if she knew someday she’d soil her underwear, play with plastic dolls as if real-life babies, kiss the wall imagining it is her childhood sweetheart, call the staff racist terms, rely on financial assistance from the government. She would be positively heartbroken if she knew she had cut off her gorgeous long hair, rip thousands of beloved family photographs into smithereens, forget her children and grandchildren, walk around naked and confused in a place not unlike she worked for the majority of her career.
Yet here we are.
It’s been nearly seven years since Mom’s Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia diagnosis. No cure is on the horizon — not even close.
I feel powerless unable to do anything for the woman who did absolutely everything for me. But what am I supposed to do? ‘Forget’ to fasten her seatbelt when we go to Dairy Queen for her beloved Butterfinger Blizzards and hope we get into passenger-side crash? Slip a fatal overdose worth of Benadryl into her morning cranberry juice cocktail?
When I learned COVID-19 was rampant in eldercare facilities, I wondered, was this the ‘out’ I had been long praying for? The very ‘out’ Mom herself would want?
I determined that yes, yes it was.
When I feel like a monster, realism overcomes my guilt. Mom would want it this way, I reason. We all have to die of something, right? Why not this? Being a pandemic statistic doesn’t make it any better or worse than any other malady. And given the alternative of countless more years suffering from Alzheimer’s, well, what is the lesser of two evils?
The main COVID-19 symptoms are shortness of breath, fever, cough, and tiredness. To a strong, stubborn woman who birthed five babies without epidurals, drove herself twenty miles to the ER in the midst of a gallbladder attack, and spent 8 days in the hospital with a kidney infection denying any pain medication, this would be deemed an acceptable death.
My one hope is that my darling Alzheimer’s mama doesn’t die alone.
But if it does come down to that and her end is near, I will jump up and down and wave my arms like a lunatic signaling to a passing rescue plane. On the other side of the double-paned window of my mom’s memory care facility, I will say goodbye. GOODBYE!
I love you!”
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