Monday, July 03, 2006

Pick Your Poison

As I emerged from a beautiful, bathwater-like Atlantic Ocean late in the afternoon on Saturday, I glanced up the beach to see my mom walking toward me carrying only her beach bag and a chair, no beach umbrella. Over the last five years, my mom has had various bits of herself scraped away as skin cancer creeps slowly over her body. After decades upon decades of sun-worshipping, she has been warned by doctors that any further exposure to UV rays will only add to the sun's damage. Her beachgoing children go to great lengths to ensure that she is appropriately sunscreened, umbrellaed, and floppy hatted. So, when she sat down next to me on Saturday my immediate response was not a cheerful, "Hey Mom" but a scowling, "Where's your umbrella?"

"I've decided I'd rather die of skin cancer than Alzheimer's," my mom answered matter-of-factly, but in a tone that indicated she'd clearly given this a lot of thought. I thought about it for a few seconds myself before I said, "Fair enough" and I then allowed her to sun herself for the rest of the day, even helping her to time her flips for an even tan (30 minutes on the front, 30 minutes on the back).

Because, you know what, Alzheimer's is a bitch. Skin cancer's no picnic either, but given those two options for my mom (or, let's be honest here, for myself in 30 years or so) I'll take skin cancer all the way. Every single person on my maternal grandmother's side of the family has had Alzheimer's -- including my grandmother, who died a couple months ago no longer knowing who anyone was, and my grandmother's sister, who is like a second grandmother and who was escorted home by the police yesterday after going for a walk and being unable to find her way back.

I don't want this to happen to my mother. I can't bear the thought of reminding her who I am every time I see her. Or later, of reminding her who I am and realizing she cannot place me, that she has no recollection of ever having had a daughter named Megan. I do not look forward to agonizing over whether she can best be cared for by an institution or by myself and my siblings. It will break my heart to watch as she struggles to call up information she knows she should have and knows she used to have but that now eludes her. I do not wish to register my mom with the National Alzheimer's Association as I would a pet whose wandering off I fear, nor do I wish to live in very real fear of her wandering off.

So, if my mom wants to lie in the sun all summer long and tell me the same stories over and over again, I'm going to let her. At least she knows who I am, and at least she's wearing SPF 30.


bob rankin said...

Jesus Megan...

My mom has dimentia and I know the agony of what life brings at "that" point...

Of course mom is pushing 76 and has been a thorn in my proverbial side (thigh) for about 42 years now...but it is incredibly hard to witness.

From one lovesick cousin to you...stay the course...koodo's to mom...have a good 4th...hope to see you soon.


bob rankin said...

sorry about the spelling errors!