This week I joined Weight Watchers. I have 10 pounds of sadness, sweet creamy coffee and gluten-free baked goods to get rid of. My occasional running and eating everything I want when the mood hits me is certainly not working. Do I need a therapist more than the WW app? Probably. But trying to lose the weight gives me a sense of control that I may or may not really have. For now I’ll take the illusion.
I happened to start my weight loss program on the same day I got a message from the facility where my mom currently lives. For reasons unknown, Mom has started to pull her hair out…by the fistfuls (trichotillomania). And when I went to visit Mom yesterday, I realized they were not exaggerating. Much of her hair on the left side of her head is gone.
Mom’s hair has been thinning over the past few years due to medication, so honestly, it didn’t look as bad as I had feared. I was so worried, though, that I brought both my son and husband with me to visit. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I’m really good at faking happiness and cheer, but sometimes I need back-up, you know? It turned out to be a great visit. We all laughed, they ate donuts and drank coffee, and I just kept my smile on. I didn’t even cry when we got back to the car, or even that night. I was ok.
But then when I told my sister about Mom, she said one little thing that just broke me. She said how sad it was that Mom had to end up this way. And she’s right. It IS fucking sad and horribly depressing to see a bright, energetic woman end up with half of her hair, scratches on her face from her own making, and only a handful of memories left. I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking about Mom and when I finally did sleep, I was restless and I kept hearing things that really weren’t there.
Today I hung out with my dad so my stepmom could go to church. Dad is on oxygen 24/7 now and can get confused easily, so he needs to have someone with him all the time. I always have a good time with my dad, and he hasn’t lost so much memory yet that we can’t have a decent conversation. He typically asks how my mom is doing, but today I told him before he could even ask. I started to cry when I told him about her hair. He cried, too, and we both agreed that Alzheimer’s was a horrible fucking disease. Later, when my stepmom arrived, she asked about Mom and I cried again. Maybe I’m really not ok.
What I finally realized is that the missing hair is like a physical manifestation of Mom’s absent mind. Each week when I visit her, something else is missing–another memory or something is no longer understood. Last week it was my brother’s height. He was always the tallest in the family but Mom kept asking if I was the tallest. I guess I am now, but I won’t admit to that. I kept saying, “No, Phil was the tallest.” And this week she had stories to tell me about who colored pictures in her book or on her wall, and she said both of her grandchildren colored them. I know they didn’t, but in her mind they’ve been there to visit and that made her happy. If Mom can remain in these happy places in her mind, maybe she won’t keep scratching her face or pulling her hair? I really don’t know. But I have to have hope that this trichotillomania will come to an end, either through medication or good thoughts or a bit of both. I have to hope because there is nothing else.
I’m watching my mother disappear, and I have to wonder, which of us will disappear first? Will I no longer recognize the woman I’ve known to be my mom first, or will she no longer recognize me?