The Long Goodbye


This blog is dedicated to my mom, Constance Ehrgott.

Anyone who has ever been a client of The Alexander Group knows that one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome is to relocate an executive when he or she has an elderly parent who has special needs. I know that only too well. Over the years, both my husband and I have had many opportunities to relocate but have been unable to do so. So, for this week’s blog, a personal story.

I was an only child, and my mother was my best friend—the most loving, supportive, coolest, wisest, and fiercely independent woman I have ever met. On my wedding day 23 years ago, she counseled me that there would be times in life when I would have to make tough choices and my priorities would shift from parents to husband and when children came, children first, husband second, and parents third. At the age of 25, her counsel was hard to imagine but twelve years ago, when my mother turned 75, the brutal reality of her comment came crashing down on me and my priorities changed in ways I could not have imagined.

We quickly made an appointment to see a neurologist (had she known, she would not have agreed to go), and after hours of testing, I was shocked with the diagnosis of mid-stage Alzheimer’s. My mom was still driving 30 minutes each way to visit us every weekend and she was always her wonderful self, great company, well put together with no indication of even early stage dementia. The news was horrifying – no one in our family had ever been diagnosed with or displayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s, so our journey into unchartered territory began….

Alzheimer’s is insidious and cruel as the disease progresses. There can be wonderful, completely normal periods and then within minutes, states of anxious confusion, even paranoia, can rear their ugly heads. Watching the burning flame of her brilliant mind fade away, as this disease stole away her independence, personality, and entire being, was/is emotionally debilitating. Early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s often causes gut-wrenching struggles because the individuals are aware they are losing control of their faculties and fight to cover it up, often at the expense of their safety and best interest.

My mother was an astute woman. She gave me power of attorney and signed a living will when my Dad died, ironically just months before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Realizing that she was throwing away her hard earned life savings and no longer equipped to manage her finances, I suggested we have joint bank accounts so I could help her as needed. My mom became extremely defensive (which I don’t blame her for at all) and after numerous battles, I had to take a drastic step and have her declared mentally incompetent. Even though Mom wasn’t aware of this, I have to think her heart broke a little as did mine.

The next challenge was taking away her car. The doctor advised that since routine things are the last to go in one’s memory, keeping her in her own home and allowing her to drive to routine places would be fine for some time. We reluctantly agreed and it worked until the day she came barreling down our driveway an hour late, with the passenger door literally hanging off the car. When we asked with great concern what happened and mom replied, “What are you talking about?” It was time to take the car to the repair shop and it never came back…

It became undeniably clear that it was time to move mom into an assisted living facility that would provide advanced care as the disease progressed. However, realizing the trauma that could result from uprooting a person with Alzheimer’s from their routine and familiar surroundings, we dreaded having to do this. Forcing mom to leave the house she loved, the house I grew up in with so many wonderful memories, while she still was very aware that she was losing control, was an extremely painful experience. We battled and shed many tears together.

As I helped Mom adjust to her new life, I tried to adhere to her advice to put my children first and be a good spouse. Rather than put my mom as a third priority, my life for the last 12 years has been a juggling act of spinning plates and trying to put everyone first. While it is my nature to be the best I can be, it is not easy.  There are some weekends I can’t visit her due to the boys’ sports activities. However, this is exactly how mom wanted it!

Mom’s diagnosis was 12 years ago. The disease has progressed to a point where there is very limited cognitive functioning, and mom is no longer angry, but rather extremely content in her own world. I feel like I have been and continue to be, in mourning. While my mom is physically there, she hasn’t been my mom, we haven’t been able to have a conversation, in eight years. She has no idea who we are, where she is, what day or year it is. She is in diapers, and she often can’t speak in coherent sentences any longer. I am grateful that she is not in pain or aware of the state she is in. If sh



January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Gail Ballinger wrote:

What a Wonderful testament to your Mom, Sarah. I had much the same experience with my mom. While heart wrenching, I too treasured every moment with her until she passed just 2 years ago. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Andrea wrote:

Thank you for sharing your journey. So many of us find ourselves suddenly caring for our parents. It is so hard to juggle so many roles. How you approached the situation says a great deal about what a wonderful daughter you are.

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Abe Isenberg wrote:

Beautiful blog with great care and understanding. I have moved 7 times ( one place twice ) Moving has its drawbacks

My doc's say my slightly less memory is normal We
will see

Anyway back to my crosswords, papers and golf. Spending the summer in Stratton Vermont. Now permanent in Boca Raton , Fla.

All the best


January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Roger Campanozzi wrote:

Hi Beth, I'm wipeing tears away from my eyes this moment. You have a heart of gold, and I'm sure your husband, and kids feel it everyday! I'm sure you've heard this before but here goes, I'm sorry about your Mom's illness. I met her a couple of times back in Twsp. and she defintely was a very elegant and smart woman. There are choices in life we hate to make but we have to make them for the benefit of our loved ones. I'll never forget you guys visiting me in the hospital after the accident in Haratine's house. If you want to stay in touch you can on FB. Sincerely, roger Campanozzi

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Bobby Owens wrote:

Beth remember the good times God bless u and your family u will be in my prayers. :+( :+)

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Martha Lara wrote:

Beth God bless you and loves you lots
and i love ya bunches!!!you are such a great human been!!!!

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Leon Matthews wrote:

This was gut wrenching from the outset and I can't imagine what you've been through for the past 12 years. I just lost an aunt who i was very close to but not strong enough to be there in her last days. Realizing she asked to put th children first and parents third, I think with what is going on now that she can be more of a priority as it will be those last few months, days, and hours that will give you some closure that I feel is missing. Hold on to god's unchanging hand!

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

Pete wrote:

My eyes are wet and my heart is saddened. I loved your story and have experienced similar pains.

January 22, 2013 AT 3:36 PM CST

MES wrote:

Such a touching story. Gives me pause to appreciate all the moments I have with my parents.

I applaud your courage.


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