The Long Goodbye: Losing a Parent One Day At a Time

Director Beth Ehrgott, who leads our life sciences and pharmaceuticals practice, recently lost her mother to a long battle with Alzheimer’s. A few years ago, she penned a TAGlines post on a topic to which many executive candidates can relate: the challenges and rewards of caring for an elderly parent. “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 or she has an elderly parent who has special needs,” she wrote. Her personal story of caring for her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2000, resonated with many of our readers.

Upon her mother’s passing three weeks ago, Beth decided to revisit this touching post, titled “The Long Goodbye,” to accompany her mother’s obituary. Beth’s piece on “The Long Goodbye” is a touching tribute to her mother, and we are honored to share it with our TAGlines readers once again.

In 2000, life changed the moment I walked into Mom's house to pick her up for an appointment. I hadn't been home in a long time because Mom visited us every weekend to be with her grandchildren. My mother always kept an immaculate house so I was completely stunned to find the house in complete disarray, overflowing with hundreds, maybe even thousands of pieces of mail, on the floor, every countertop, table, bed, everywhere! Upon closer inspection, I discovered that most were unsolicited letters asking for donations for every cause imaginable and the envelopes were stuffed with cash or checks, every one accompanied with the same hand-written note: "I am a retired teacher and will only be able to contribute to your worthy cause this one time." Further scrutiny revealed multiple requests from the same organizations, mailed just a few weeks apart, and my mother was donating to every single one! I calmly expressed concern about the overwhelming amount of mail and my mother didn't skip a beat, replying, "Yes, I am a little behind but I am working on a project for the government."

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. 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, and 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 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. 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 wife. Rather than put Mom as a third priority, my life for the last 15 years has been a juggling act of spinning plates and trying to put everyone first. While it is my nature to always give my best, it has not been easy. There were many weekends I couldn't visit Mom due to the boys' travel sports activities - however, this is exactly how she wanted it!

Two years ago, there was one moment when I tearfully expressed to my mom how much I missed her. She had tears in her eyes also and said, "I miss you too." She was back for a fleeting moment, but as quickly as it came, she was gone again. Mom, I have desperately missed you and will cherish that moment forever…I love you!!

If my mom were here, I know she would say to all of us, “Well, it’s about time! “ I certainly knew this day would come and thought I would be able to accept it with feelings of relief that her suffering is now over. However, while I believe she absolutely is in a much better place and no longer suffers from Alzheimer’s, the finality of my mom’s passing is overwhelmingly painful and I can’t stop thinking about her. My mom was an inspiration to me and many. and I will be forever grateful for every moment we had together. She was my hero for many reasons and taught me so much about life. If I can be a mere fraction of the woman she was, I will be doing better than most. I realize the healing process will take time but life will never be the same without my precious mom.

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