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Celebrating Life with Mom - by Ron Ahnen
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Mary and Jerry Ahnen lead Team Ahnen at the 2015 Walk to End Alzheimer's in Kenosha-Racine Counties

Celebrating Life With Mom
By Ron Ahnen 

My mother, Mary Ahnen has Alzheimer’s.  As is probably obvious already to anyone reading this, loving and caring for someone with this disease is a huge challenge on many levels—physical, emotional, psychological, logistical, and even financial.  As I am sure you can imagine, pain and hardship are part of the process as we have seen many aspects of my mother’s personality slip away from her.  Reflecting on the last decade since the onset of my mother’s present condition, however, I have concluded that the most important outcome of Mom having this disease is that we have focused not on what she’s lost, but rather on the love and life that we, her family and friends, continue to celebrate with her and Dad.

Our journey began more than ten years ago now when Mom, in a routine doctor’s visit, couldn’t answer the question:  Who is the president?  We began to see certain signs that her memory was slipping in ways beyond the normal, everyday mental lapses that we all share.  Some family members were quicker to see it than others, and some preferred to defend Mom as she defended herself against the notion that she was losing her mind.  This beginning phase was, in fact, a difficult time because the sooner one can diagnose the disease and get on medication, the better the process can be slowed.  You may find yourself making arguments against your loved one in order to help them—help that they may flat out refuse and even find offensive.  When this happens, support from other family members and friends  is vital.

Most importantly, we needed to support Dad, John Ahnen, who was and continues to be my Mom’s primary caregiver.  In a very short time, he had to take over all household tasks while, with the greatest patience he could muster, responding to Mom’s repeated questions about what day it was or what they were doing that day.  She began repeating stories from her childhood over and over and over again, day in and day out.  Finding support is not always easy.  We tried to get Dad to join a support group, but he couldn’t relate well to other members’ concerns since their relatives were at a very different stage from Mom.  But one thing became crystal clear:  whether it is from family, friends, or a local Alzheimer’s support group, that primary caregiver needs support in many ways—even if they may also, at times, deny it.  We stepped up in supporting my Dad, taking out more time from our day and week to be with Mom and allow him to do everything from grocery shopping to having breakfast with his Thursday morning breakfast buddies.

The decision to move Mom to a memory care facility was a difficult one for sure, but one we knew we couldn’t avoid.  The pressure was too great on Dad, and we knew that if we didn’t do something soon, we would be putting his health and well-being at great risk as well.  The move itself was a carefully timed event in which we were able to move many things from Mom’s bedroom and home to her new room at the residence during the short span of time in which she was visiting with a relative for the afternoon.  Again, the loving response of family was paramount to pulling off this carefully orchestrated move in a way that made the adjustment as easy as possible for Mom.

Not to say that it was easy.  In the first weeks—even the first year, she constantly pestered Dad with the same two questions:  When can I go home?  When can we be together again?  This was a daily challenge for Dad, and he naturally began to question whether he had really made the right decision.  And again, it took a lot of support from his children, family members, and friends to reassure him that the new arrangement was better for both Mom and him.

During the almost five years my mother has lived at the memory care facility, my father has visited just about every day.  Now he spends absolutely every day with her unless he is, on rare occasions, out of town.  His passion and compassion for the love of his life has become ever more obvious to those around him.  Dad is truly as deeply in love with Mom as ever before.  She is still able to recognize him, call him by name, follow his lead in all their activities, and still jokes around with him in her usual funny—and punny—way.  Mom can’t talk about the past or the future, but her present is there, and that is where my father and the rest of the family spend her life with her now—in the present.  We sing songs, tell stories, make jokes, and even dance.  My sister has her over to her house almost every Sunday for Packer games.  It’s strange at first, but we are experiencing a constantly moving 30 second interval with my Mom.  We now live with her in her world—in her space.  And in doing so, we have a great time.  We don’t focus on what she’s lost.  Instead, we live with her in the constant present and celebrate with her all the joy of that present.

The point is this:  no matter how many difficult challenges and obstacles Mom’s disease has presented for us, we are able to overcome them because at every turn we have strived to meet those challenges with love and care—a love and care that she taught us in the first place.  And it’s the celebration of love from my father, my family, and her friends, that is, in fact, the greatest story of Mom’s life.


 

Alzheimer's Association

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