Snappy Dresser: A Daughter’s Journal

by Beth Whitman

Mom has developed quite a sense of style as she moves deeper into Alzheimer’s.  She has her favorite items that look great on her — the baby blue sweater (of which she has an identical pair, so when one gets dirty, we’re able to sneak it off of her and wash it without her getting upset about not having her sweater), the bright red t-shirt (also two), and the bright purple scarf are among her most distinctive items.

A friend who has gotten to know her more recently said to me, “Your mother must have been quite the snappy dresser when she was younger.”

But that is actually not the case.  I have noticed this distinctive style developing only lately.  She knows how to mix and match, and even when she puts her underwear on over her other clothes, somehow it looks great on her.

And the hats!  Oh, the hats!  No one wears a hat like my mother.

Mom can make an elegant hat out of anything these days, sometimes much to the embarrassment of my father.  I think the day Mom wore the laundry basket on her head throughout her entire art class was when Dad finally came to terms with the fact that the Marianne he knew was irretrievably disappearing.

Mom was having fun and everyone in the art class was interacting with her as though the laundry basket on her head were a normal everyday thing, but Dad abruptly put down his paints and brushes and, shaking his head, retired into the next room.

I followed him, knowing something was wrong.

“Why does she have to embarrass me like this?” he said angrily.  “She is making a fool of herself and making me look like a fool as well!”

And to fully understand the impact of this, you have to know that I can count on my hands and feet the number of times I have ever heard that edge of anger in my father’s voice.

“Dad,” I said, “everyone has the utmost respect for you and how gentle and kind you are with Mom.  Everyone here understands what is happening, that Mom is becoming more and more like a child every day.  And they all think you have amazing patience and love.”

The look he gave me was telling.  It had finally sunk in — the last remnants of denial were gone.  I gave him a hug, and as I left the room, I knew he was crying.

Laundry Basket, by Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman lives in Maine and is a member of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage, a developing community on the coast of Maine focused on multigenerational living and sustainability.

15 Responses to “Snappy Dresser: A Daughter’s Journal”

  1. Terri Silver says:

    Beth, will she dress herself or does she need help? How long ago was she diagnosed? Does she know anyone? What meds is she on? Does she bathe and feed herself? My Mom has no idea how to dress herself anymore. I have found an online store called Spec-L Solutions that sells clothing that snaps in the back. It’s much easier to dress her that way. God bless you and yours and your Mom on this journey.

  2. Joanne Squires says:

    I am having one of those days that I’m at my wit’s end and feel so alone and I found this. My mom had herself dressed this morning with one leg in her pajama pants, her shirt up her legs like pants, no shirt but a button sweater, and a washcloth underneath the sweater. And…my day of frustration starts. When I’ve told others about incidents like this they laugh and I can feel myself getting angry. HOW can they think this awful disease and incidents like this are funny?

  3. Beth says:

    Terri, Thank you for your blessings.
    Today was a big day for us. Today we took mom to the long term care facility.

    Mom hasn’t dressed herself in a while – although she will try to pull sheets over her head and step into pillow cases as if they were a skirt. And she will make the right moves to pull a shirt over her head or put her arms into the sleeves if I hold her shirt or sweater for her.

    I can’t say she really knows anyone, although she will occasionally ask for me. But then again, usually when she asks for me I am right in front of her. She recognizes both dad and myself as people that she is particularly happy to see, but otherwise there is no particular recognition.

    She is still feeding herself. But she stopped bathing herself a long time ago.

    Until very recently she wasn’t on any medication, but about three months ago I started giving her very small doses of Lorazapam when she was particularly upset without a clear reason. More recently she has started becoming regularly inconsolable for no apparent reason, so in the past three weeks I have acquiesced to the prescription for Haldol that the Hospice folks recommended, and have been giving her 1 mg of Haldol 3x a day. Her mood has perked up considerably with that dosage – where earlier when we experimented with that dosage for a few days it had made her almost catatonic.

    Hope all this information is helpful to you.
    My best wishes to you in caring for your Mom.

  4. rick laub says:

    My mom came down with this, I have three sisters that disowned her after my dad passed away, We took her in and we have a four year old with ALL leukemia our doctor said there is not really nothing i could give her so i started her on melatonin peppermint tablets that made a big difference with her. I like your web site there are a lot of similar things with my mom, My wife said its like having three four year olds in the house.

  5. Laurie haapanen says:

    How do you deal with siblings who won’t participate in the loved ones care? Does it always have to be one adult child who bears all of the burden?

  6. Rebeka says:

    What a remarkably beautiful article!

  7. Val says:

    Your sharing of this journey touched me deeply. The beauty in the relationship…on a good day…is something I hope you can take with you. You are a wonderful daughter, she is blessed. Good luck in this journey. I pray for Grace for you both.