Cheryl recalls memories of her mother, “She had bright red hair, and her nails were always impeccably done, and she would hug everybody she met. When she entered a room, she had a way of brightening it up with her presence. It was her laughter and the way she carried herself. She was graceful and regal, and people gravitated toward her. They wanted to be close to her.” Cheryl and Lori laugh fondly as they remember their mother, Anne, the family’s caring, vibrant matriarch.
Dealing with Changes
Anne was 60 when her family discovered through testing that she had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The family struggled with the personality changes that can affect Alzheimer’s patients but found a way to keep a positive attitude. They often said she meant the opposite of anything out of character. “Even though we were the people she loved the most, her anger was towards us,” remembers Cheryl. “But we would turn it around and say, ‘Oh, she didn’t mean that what she wanted to say was…’ We would always say it’s the disease talking. It’s a roadblock, a short circuit in her mind.”
Using Humour to Cope
They still laugh as they reminisce about some of the more comical moments. Lori remembers Anne phoning and saying, “Lori, I have two pantsuits on today.” Cheryl recalls that her mom wanted to change the colour of her purse, so she painted it with nail polish. The sisters say that humour got them through the difficult times of dealing with their mother’s condition. As Lori says, “If we didn’t laugh, we would cry, so we choose to laugh.”
The sisters agree that it was sometimes difficult to make decisions as a family about their mom’s care, and it was a journey of learning to advocate for their mother. “We learned never to be afraid to ask questions, to research it yourself, but also to know you’re an advocate, you’re their voice,” says Cheryl.
Cheryl’s Involvement with Alzheimer Calgary
“Being involved helps me honour my mom,” she says. “Because I work for IG Wealth Management (the Alzheimer Walk and Run title sponsor), I can walk or volunteer at a table or help out in other ways. We received help from Alzheimer Calgary, and they were there for us. I couldn’t give back when Mom was alive because I was just surviving, but now I’m at a point where I can.”
“People we know are starting to go through the same thing now,” says Cheryl. “We can say, have you called the Alzheimer Calgary? There’s respite care available. You need to get in touch with them.”
Strength of Family
One of the most valuable lessons they learned is how to navigate challenging times as a family, which they credit to their mother’s teachings. “We had a mother who loved us with all her heart, and we loved her with all our hearts,” says Cheryl. “And it’s because we were such a strong family that we could deal with her illness." Lori agrees, “Family is everything, and she instilled in us the importance of being there for each other. And that’s why we leaned on each other so much. Our strength comes from being together.”