"It is my most fervent wish that you take care of your mother"

It wasn’t pretty.

My mother is 92. She has Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a long-term care home. She’s lived there since before Covid began. It’s a nice place actually, with caring, attentive and thoughtful staff. We pay a lovely woman to spend time with Mom everyday, and she has made such a difference - keeping Mom company, feeding her, doing all those little things that provide physical contact, even when physical contact was at a premium because of the pandemic.

Some time ago, I can’t say exactly when, Mom began to grind, chatter and clench her teeth. It is one of those repetitive actions that comes with dementia - perhaps self-soothing, perhaps simply a way to feel alive.

As a result, some of her teeth began to crack and shatter. Mom always said to me, “At least I still have all of my own teeth!” The truth is she doesn’t. Many of her teeth are crowns or bridges and now, the ones that were left, are broken stubs. I’m glad she’s not spending any time standing in front of the mirror, smiling and putting on lipstick and powder like she did when I was a child. She wouldn’t recognize her own mouth.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day: September 17th, 1955. Dad always said she was a dish. Indeed she was.

Today she had an appointment with the visiting dentist. I came to hold her hand and give her comfort. Before you say that I’m a good daughter, I have to say that it wasn’t my idea, rather I was volunteered by my older, more compassionate out-of-town sister. The staff assured us that all would be well if a family member didn’t attend, but as we all know, well, it’s a dental appointment for God’s sake.

I’m glad I came after all. She did not want to open her mouth - who can blame her? But the dentist and her helper were both efficient, kind and thorough and despite a few outbursts when Mom had enough clarity, discomfort and gumption to yell out, “GET OUT OF MY MOUTH!”, it was all over in less than thirty minutes.

Alzheimer’s disease is a cruel way to end your days. No one knows how long it will degrade you, how long it will eat away at your mind, your functions, your ability to feel emotions. The clock ticks down and I am reminded of what my Dad asked of us: “It is my most fervent wish that you take care of your mother.”