Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • My mother used to keep a marble in the cup holder of her car. Invariably, it would fall and roll somewhere. As soon as she noticed it was gone, she’d jump with glee and with a glint in her smile declare, “I’ve lost my marble!! I only have one you know” as she would look for, and find it – her self-depreciating sense of humor fully intact. But several years later, I had to wonder whether this favorite joke of hers was some sort of pre-cognitive knowledge of how things would change, and how quickly.

    We didn’t notice the changes right away, mostly because the first signs seemed so insignificant. She got a little cranky, which was largely unusual for her. It was about time, I thought. She had a lot to be cranky about. Ever the woman to hold the ghosts strictly at bay, I thought this might be her way of starting to deal with them. This change was good, even if it was going to be a little bit bumpy.

    But as quickly as the opening came, it became subsumed by something else. First was the odd incident between her and her sister. My mom and my aunt had always been exceptionally close, but then my mom was bickering at her about a bank account in Brussels with less than $500 in it. But she had found a bank receipt listing the amount, from 20 years ago. The account was long closed, but it didn’t matter. She accused my aunt of never giving her the interest and keeping the money for herself. My mom wanted to hire a lawyer, go whole hog to get this money. I tried to mediate, call my aunt, but she was as confused as I. It was not like my mom at all.

    When I looked at her checkbook, it became clearer. Her numbers weren’t adding up either, literally. She had always been meticulous about balancing her checkbook, but all I saw now were jumbles. And her journals, where she kept a narrative of the ideas and thoughts she incorporated into her art, had turned into angry ramblings, many of them focused on her sister. These were the items her mind was using as evidence to prove her sister's wrongdoing.

    We started talking, trying to understand. My brother mentioned that my mom had called him and his wife while on vacation. She was apologetic and annoyed. She feared she had interrupted the funeral they were attending. But that didn’t explain why the man who answered the phone had been so brusque with her, she said. That man was rude. But there was no funeral, and there was no man. There was only the message on the answering machine, and the message she left in response.

    We agreed. Something was happening. We just didn’t know what. And we were scared.

    I don’t remember how long it took to get her to the doctor. I only remember it was extremely painful, ugly, and seemed like forever. We wanted to know what was happening to her. She accused us of trying to put her away, of wanting to abandon her. I tried to assure her we wanted her to get better. My dad and my brother tried too. But she would have none of it.

    We finally convinced her to see my doctor for a routine check-up, thinking that perhaps if we took each step as it came, we could at least get some kind of diagnosis. My doctor has the most incredible and soothing bedside manner and, as luck would have it, is well versed in geriatric medicine. I was sure he would be able to talk to her, convince her to get the tests she needed – or we needed – to figure out what was happening to her. Or at least I hoped. It helped that he was very tall, very boyish-looking, and very, very polite to her. He could be her son, and she took to him. I breathed for the first time in weeks.

    He recommended tests, lots of them. Blood work, urine work, even a spinal tap. He recommended a neurologist and a neuro-psychologist. And every time my mother would balk, he would get on the phone with her and very gently and very calmly convince her that this test or that procedure was the right thing to do.

    But it got harder and harder. It was progressing so fast we couldn’t keep up. The neurologist wanted more tests, but she hated the neurologist. And she wasn’t taking it out on her sister anymore. She was taking it out on me, blaming me for the invasive procedures and for the nightmare her brain was becoming for her. She just knew I was trying to get rid of her, and the neurologist was in on it. And all I could do was be patient and hope she would get better, and soon. I had to remind myself it was the disease, which is a lot easier than it sounds sometimes.

    Finally, when she had had enough of the tests, the neurologist had enough tests to conclude. We’ve ruled out stroke, epilepsy, and all of the other dementias that are slower moving, he said. And it’s certainly not Parkinson’s or Mad Cow Disease or any of those rarer forms of dementia. This looks more like Alzheimer’s, except it’s moving so quickly I can’t really call it that.

    The best we can do is Rapid Progression Dementia.

    It had only been six months, but in the process of the diagnosis, I had already lost her. There would be no more painting, no more lost marble jokes or shared meals or conversations, no more chances for her to be introspective about her past or her future.

    There would just be the decline in her capacity to fend for herself, and the loss those of us left behind would increasingly feel.

    Call it Alzheimers, Dementia, or whatever; it’s a cruel disease.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.