Since I was a little girl, my mom and I would tell each other that we love one another “the muches in the world past infinity.” See, she is a single mother, and I am an only child, and our bond has been steadfast for the entirety of our relationship.
Momma, as I affectionately call her, gave birth to me when she was 38 years old, and while I was a welcome gift to her, she lived a full life before I took my first breath. Carol Lipsmeyer, as the rest of the world knows her, is the second of five children. She was—and still is—a devout Catholic, was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, and she essentially raised her brothers since her mother was rarely around and her father worked three jobs to support his family. She never married. Apparently, she was proposed to a whopping three times, but she said no to each, telling me, “I never found anyone good enough for me.” This speaks to her high standards and feisty nature, for sure!
She went to nursing school directly after high school and worked many years as a Registered Nurse. In fact, she scrubbed in on the very first heart transplant! And still, Momma wanted to challenge herself further and make a good comfortable living for herself. She was one of the first females in the state of Arkansas to become a Nurse Anesthetist, a profession typically reserved for men. She did over 5,000 cases, mostly for open heart surgery, over a span of 40 years. Momma is truly respected for her dedication to the health care system.
When my mom had me, she completely devoted her life to me. She raised me to recognize the value in others and to be a strong, independent woman. She taught me to love deeply and to be vulnerable, in spite of what others may think. She taught me to take risks, to right my wrongs as best as I can, and to forgive others fully. I can go to her with any problem, and she consistently offers sound advice without forcing her opinions. Though she was a relatively strict parent when I was growing up, we have been best friends for all of my 31 years on this planet. She is my biggest advocate.
About five or six years ago, though, I noticed that Momma’s short-term memory was failing. She would get confused while driving in her hometown and would lose things on a consistent basis. In retrospect, I see all these happenings as red flags, but I was in denial at the time. I didn’t want to consider that the fate of the strongest woman I know would be rendered to a terrible disease called Alzheimer’s.
Three years ago, there was no more room for denial, and I had the most difficult talk of my life with her. Both of us sitting on her bed, I told her I knew that she had noticed her forgetfulness and lack of focus and that I had noticed it, too. “Momma, I’m pretty sure this is more than old-age forgetfulness. I think it’s a dementia of some sort, and I’d really like to go with you to a specialist who can assess what’s going on and provide you with treatment. This is heavy and a lot to take in, but I want to keep you healthy and safe. Most of all, I want you to know this is not your fault.”
There has been much stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s for decades now, even though an astounding 5 million people live with the disease today. Many mistakenly liken it to a major mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia or major depression, and those who are diagnosed search for answers as to why this happened to them. I think, though I’m not certain, that my mom believed her own mother got this disease as a karmic payback for being absent in her children’s and husband’s lives.
Thankfully, Momma agreed to see a specialist and has trusted me with her care ever since.
After many, many doctors’ visits over the past three years, Momma now has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We sold her house, and she currently lives in an assisted living community in Little Rock. She loves her friends and the staff there, but we have decided together it is time to move her closer to me and my family here in Western Massachusetts.
See, just after Thanksgiving, Momma had an abscess in her abdomen, and had to be admitted to the hospital. She subsequently got an infection and wound up with kidney failure, which put her total days in the hospital at sixteen, plus seven days in an unfamiliar rehab facility. She was supposed to spend Christmas with me, my partner, Dave, and my two “bonus sons” here in Northampton, but Dave, Momma, and I ended up spending Christmas Day in her rehab room in Little Rock.
If you’ve ever spent time in the hospital, you know what a drag it can be, but imagine being completely confused, not knowing where you are or really understanding the reason for being there. A stay in the hospital for a regular person can be exacerbated up to seven-fold for a person with Alzheimer’s, e.g. a two-week stay can seem like 2.5 months for an Alzheimer’s patient. Every day, Momma would tell me, “Katie, I just want to go home.”
It was a traumatic experience for her (and for me), and her brain is still recovering from it. Hopefully, she will regain the cognizance she had before this incident, but there is a chance she may not. Never again do I want to be this far away from her when she has an emergency. And so, Dave and I will move her up here in the near future.
I tell you my mother’s story in hopes to, first, bring awareness to the issue of Alzheimer’s, as hers is one of millions. The stories of these radiant human beings need to be told, as they are no longer able to tell their stories themselves. Second, we as prideful people rarely offer such vulnerable and personal pieces of ourselves to a wide audience. But I have found a wonderful community of people in Pioneer Valley Fitness and Energia Fitness over the past year, and I want you to know the struggles I deal with.
I wonder sometimes if I will get this disease. I wouldn’t wish this fate on anyone, but I have to consider, on some level, that I may too ultimately lose my memory, my identity. One of the many reasons I have committed my life to fitness is because I have a 40% less chance of getting Alzheimer’s if I do aerobic activity for 30 minutes, 2-3 times per week. (All of us do.) And if it does turn out to be my fate, then—in the wise words of Kurt Vonnegut—so it goes. But I’ll put up a hell of a fight before it takes me down.
I don’t know what the future holds for my mother. My wish is that she remains stable for a long time, enjoying precious time with me, Dave, her “bonus grandchildren,” and any other biological grandchildren she may have. Few things remain constant, and I have a great respect for that, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will always love each other the muches in the world past infinity.