She Feared Being Alone with Her Mom with Alzheimer’s

She didn’t know how to comfort her anxious mother. Then a childhood memory—and a prayer—saved the day.

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- Posted on Apr 27, 2021

An illsutration of an angels embracing a mother and daughter; Illustration by Amalia Restrepo

”I’ll be back in a couple hours,” Dad said as the screen door slammed shut that late afternoon.

Two hours, I told myself. You can do this. I took a long, deep breath and turned to face Mom. Through her cataracts, at least, she couldn’t see the worry in my face. Keeping Mom’s anxiety at bay while she struggled with Alzheimer’s could be next to impossible. If she had an episode, I didn’t know if I could handle it alone, especially at the end of the day.

“Want to sit in your chair, Mom?”

“Yes.” Mom smiled blankly. I guided her to her recliner.

“Turn a little more.” Mom shuffled her feet as I positioned her body and helped her get situated. Once she was comfortable with a fleece blanket on her lap, I sat next to her in Dad’s chair. It felt good to sit after a long day of feeding Mom, helping her use the bathroom, guiding her to make sure she didn’t trip and fall. I hoped she could rest now.

The room grew dark and shadowy as the sun set. I turned on the table lamp between us, unsure what to do next. Listen to an audiobook? Try to carry on a conversation? See if I could get Mom to tell me a story from her childhood? Without chores to keep me busy, I felt awkward, as if I were babysitting my own mom.

On the two days a week I visited, I made myself useful: cleaning the house, cooking meals and doing laundry, all the while keeping a close eye on Mom. Usually Dad was right there in his home office while I worked. But today he needed to go to a meeting, so Mom and I were on our own. As I watched her head tilt back in sleep, I felt the tension leave my shoulders. I opened a book, and time passed peacefully as I became fully absorbed in the words. Then Mom moaned.

“Oh, no!” She jerked upright.

“What is it, Mom?”

“I’m scared.” Panic etched lines across her face. “The snow’s getting on me. I’m cold, so cold.”

“Mom, you’re safe. You’re here at home.”

“Help me!” She grabbed tightly to my hand.

“I’m right here with you. I won’t leave you.” I knew my words weren’t enough when the anxiety took hold. As much as I tried to reassure her, I knew she could hear the shakiness in my voice. I prayed for Dad to hurry home from his meeting. He would know how to help her. His presence always calmed Mom when no one else seemed able to. What could I do? Just me, alone?

Lord, how can I help Mom when I don’t have the words to make her understand? My prayer gave me an idea. Maybe words weren’t the answer. I did the only thing I could think of. I sat on the arm of Mom’s chair, rubbed her forehead and hummed softly, just like she’d done for me as a child when I had a migraine headache.

As the minutes wore on, Mom’s frantic breathing slowed. The tension left her face. She began to hum along. It was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard.

I bowed my head, comforted that I wasn’t alone until Dad returned. The Lord was there with us. I’d remember that the next time Mom was frightened so that I wouldn’t be frightened too.

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