Daughter bonds with mother who has Alzheimer's
A couple of months ago, Debra Siegel asked her mother, Sandy Siegel, "What's my name?"
Sandy answered her only child.
"How are we related?" Debra asked.
"I don't know," her mother, 67, replied. "But I know that I love you."
Sandy Siegel has Alzheimer's disease. She quit her job to stay at home with Debra while her daughter was growing up. Now she relies on her daughter to take care of her.
Debra, 36, works as an adjunct professor at Three Rivers Community College and lives with her mother in Plainfield. She's also finishing work on a second master's degree, this one at Eastern Connecticut State University. She takes a lot of online classes, so she can stay with her mother.
For Mother's Day, Debra is taking Sandy out for brunch. Depending on how Sandy feels, they may shop.
"She just is good, and I love her. I just want to be with her all the time," Sandy said.
Alzheimer's is typically diagnosed in people 65 or older. Debra said doctors believe a concussion Sandy suffered may have sped it up, so it struck her in her 60s instead of her 80s.
A couple of years ago, she slipped while walking the dog in the rain, fell and hit her head. She passed out, though Debra doesn't know for how long; neighbors didn't realize Sandy was in the front yard at first because the dog lay on top of her. Her German Shepherd, Luka, now 7, knew there was something wrong.
Sandy suffered initial memory loss; Debra remembers the doctor showing her mother different objects in the hospital room. He held a pen at one point; she couldn't recall the name for it.
But then, Sandy started to get better. And for at least a year, she was all right. Debra talked to her mother every day, and visited her a couple of times a month. But it took her awhile to realize something was wrong.
"I think I was in denial," she said. "My best friend said, 'Something is wrong with your mother. You need to bring her to the doctor.' He hounded me until I got out of denial."
Debra was an only child. Her mother worked until she was born, then stayed home 18 years caring for her. Debra remembers sitting with her grandmother and mother in the back yard. There's nothing specific she recalls. "It was more a feeling of happiness and comfort being with them," she said.
From the time she was about 4 years old until she went to college, she was on a swim team. Sandy hated the water, but she'd take her daughter to lessons, sit in the heat and sweat, waiting for her. Sandy also brought her to acting and dance classes, to the mall, to lunch. Debra's friends always visited her house. Sandra went back at work as an administrative assistance the month Debra started college.
They were always close, but they became closer after Debra's father died. He was 56, and passed away after an accident. Debra called her mother at least once a day after that. One month, her phone bill hit $400.
Shortly before Sandy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Debra flew with her to Italy for two weeks. Sandy always dreamed of going to Europe, and planned three trips. But for one reason or another, they never happened.
"I knew she wasn't going to remember it eventually," Debra said. "But I just felt like I had to do something for her, and that was her dream for her to go there. It was for me, too."
They visited, Rome, Florence, and Venice. They climbed an enormous stone staircase up into the trees at dusk, and bought olive oil and preserves at a family farm south of Sorrento. They rode a cable car through the mountains in the Swiss Alps. They tasted Gelato, an Italian version of ice cream, in every town they visited.
Then Debra stared looking for a house. She bought one in Plainfield in June 2008. She didn't want to tell her mother to move in with her; Sandy was against the idea at first. She'd lived in the same house for 32 years and was used to it. And she didn't want to take away from her daughter's life.
But eventually, she got used to the idea. She sold her house and moved in November.
Sandy can still do basic things for herself, but she has trouble finding words sometimes. So Debra helps her. She lays out her clothes in the morning. She reminds her to brush her teeth. She cooks her breakfast.
Sandy knows her daughter's name, but sometimes she forgets the relationship. She thinks Debra is her sister, that she remembers her from when she was a child.
Debra used to take part in plays and gave it up for awhile. She recently auditioned for the first time in about two years, and got a part in "I Hate Hamlet", a comedy that opens at the end of the month at the Windham Theatre Guild in Willimantic. She plays Felicia, a New York City real estate agent.
Her mom is going to see it. "She was so excited when I got that part, because I kept talking to her about it," Debra said.
Debra knows that the disease will progress, that things will get worse; so she appreciates everything all the more.
"I can talk to her and she's aware that I'm with her," she said. "And it makes me not take for granted any of those simple moments."