This is Keri! A friend of mine from high school messaged me awhile back and told me that her good friend, Keri, would be an amazing contributor to the Hope in Humanity Project. I, not knowing Keri or her story, reached out to see if she would possibly be interested in participating. After a few messages back and forth, we solidified a date and time to meet up. I like to take pictures that are meaningful for the individual and she mentioned her husband is a firefighter in Ogden, so we thought it would be special to document their family at a place that plays a big part in their lives. (We took some photographs at the station and the field across the street.) I had no idea what to expect when I pulled up. She seemed to be very kind and genuine through email….but wow, was I blown away by her goodness. She has a heart of solid-gold, people. She excitedly greeted me, while holding her darling 7 week old, Jed. The entire time I was with this family, I was in awe. They are incredibly kind, optimistic, service-oriented, and good people. I left feeling like I had made a true friend. I cannot say enough about the Barrett Family.
Here is her story:
“My Mother had a disease that took her from this earth at an early age. This disease is called Alzheimer’s. Yes, Alzheimer’s disease is unfair and horrible, but I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my Mother, or the experiences we shared for anything in this world. Alzheimer’s disease taught me how to have patience and show unconditional love.
I came home from school on May 5th , 2008, my senior year of high school. My mom and I were going to dinner with my sister, Brooke. This was a usual Tuesday night outing for us, dinner at the China Garden, a restaurant we visited often. We all ordered our regular dish, my mom’s being the Sichuan Chicken, Brooke had the Coconut Shrimp, and I always got Orange Chicken with extra egg drop soup. We were all discussing each other’s previous week, when silence fell upon the conversation. My mom took this as an opportunity to blurt out the sentence that I will never forget, “I have Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, but I’m okay.” I felt as though the whole restaurant heard, and everyone was staring at us. My whole world seemed to stop. Those words sunk in like knives. “I have Alzheimer’s.” Brooke and I were stunned, and the question’s started flooding in. What? You are only 47 years old. How quickly will the disease progress? Are you going to die? Why is this happening? There were so many questions that would always go unanswered, and so much for us to learn.
My mother’s disease didn’t progress as quickly as we had anticipated, she was at what the Doctors called “stage 2” for about four years. During those four years she didn’t lose the memory of those she loved, she more so lost the ability to do the things that made her “Mary Ann.” Our mother, that used to drive us to all of our softball games couldn’t even sit in the driver seat of a car, in fear that she may drive on the wrong side of the road. The daughter’s she once dressed, had to dress her because she did not know what article of clothing to put on first. This was all too much to handle. The look of complete despair and defeat sat on my mothers face the majority of the time, she knew she used to be able to do these every day tasks, but she could not seem to grasp them any longer. Watching my mother slip away before my eyes could be described as unbearable and frustrating at times, but I learned patience and unconditional love were the two attributes that would help me connect with my “new” mom.
The year 2012 would be the year of change; this was the year I noticed my mother slipping further away from us. It was at my wedding, that she did not recognize me for the first time. I remember this moment so clearly, Sam and I were standing in our reception line, and my mother came up to me to introduce herself. She looked right through me with her bright shining eyes and said, “I’m Mary Ann, and I’m so happy you invited me to share your special day with you.” I was crushed. My mother and I were having a conversation like we had never met before. At that moment, I no longer was present at my own reception, loved ones and friends were coming up to congratulate Sam and I on our new marriage, but I was in a zombie like state. All I could think of were challenges my mother and I had ahead of us.
The day after my husband and I arrived home from our honeymoon, we began to look for nursing homes, the place my mother would spend the rest of her life. The day I began the nursing home hunt was the day I realized I was basically on this journey alone, my new husband did not know how to handle the situation we were in, my father was not in the picture due to a nasty divorce, and my older sister lived out of state, though she did all that she could from afar. I soon found out that finding my mother’s new home would not be an easy task. No place would ever be good enough, clean enough, or the right place for my mom, but I knew I had to pick one. We finally found the “right” home for my mom in June of 2012. This was the point in time that I really started to see changes in her demeanor.
The years of my mother living in a nursing home were very hard. I will never forget the phone calls I would receive daily from my terrified mother letting me know that she had been kidnapped and held against her will, or that she was lost and needed to be taken home, it broke my heart every time I had to tell her that she was home. The phone calls I hated the most though, were the ones from my more coherent mother, one that remembered who she used to be, and knew about her dreams that she had, and once held so close.
My mother and I would celebrate her days of remembering the past, but those were few and far between. I discovered that my mom needed someone to hold on for her, she needed someone to hold on to what she couldn’t seem to hold on to herself. I was now her advocate and caregiver. She couldn’t always find the words she was trying to speak, or always know the face in the mirror looking back at her. My mom always felt forgotten and lost in this world, she needed someone to do something that she no longer could do for herself, remember who she used to be.
All of a sudden there came a day where she went away, she didn’t die, she just went away. My mom could barely walk, wouldn’t eat, speak, or use the restroom. When I looked into her eyes, it was just a deep glaze, she was gone. The disease I hated so much had finally stolen my sweet mother from me completely, but the memories I had made with her would never fade.
July 31st, 2014, I received a call from the nursing home. The nurse manager informed me that it was time to put my mom on hospice care, she wasn’t waking up, and couldn’t get out of bed. Deep down I knew that this was it. Something inside of me told me that these were the last days I would spend with my mother. I didn’t leave her side for two weeks, family came and went, the days past, her breaths became more and more shallow each day. The nights we spent together were restless, I would wake up anytime silence fell upon the room, in fear that she had returned home to our Father in Heaven.
At last, on August 17th at 9:05 AM, we said our final good-bye. The pain I felt cut into my soul just like a knife, but in the same breath I felt relief for my sweet mother. I no longer needed to cry as I watched the war she was fighting with herself, she was not suffering anymore, she was home.
I felt so many emotions the day I lost her, there was fear, there was faith, there was loss, and also grace. I hate Alzheimer’s Disease, there is no illness like it, the ones suffering feel so alone, it tears the care giver’s world in half, and it is such a cruel way for anyone die. There have been so many emotions throughout the years my mother suffered, after all, I lost the one that I loved the most, I’ve cried until I thought I couldn’t stop and I’ve laughed until it hurt, I’ve even prayed in an empty parking lot asking my Father in Heaven “why this is happening to my family”?
It was when I turned to my Heavenly Father that I learned to love Alzheimer’s Disease, without it, I don’t think my mother and I would have built the strong bond that we have, one that can not be broken, or forgotten. My mother may not have remembered my name or even that I was her daughter, but she knew I was always there for her. One day I asked her, “do you know who I am?” Her response was, “I don’t know who you are, but I know that you love me”. This beautiful woman had just shown me that unconditional love speaks straight to your soul and never leaves you, even when a disease such as Alzheimer’s takes every bit of your existence away.
My mom is one thing that is worth not forgetting, and I will never let her go, because she taught me something that I otherwise would not have known, love can conquer all things. Love is the most important thing on this earth, and we should never go a single day with out showing love towards others. If there is one thing in this world that I believe in, it is Love. Love is all around us and it is what defines us as human beings. Love can make or break you, and is a very important aspect in our lives. If we all loved with a Christ-like love, we could bring such happiness to our own lives and to those around us. I believe, that those with terminal illnesses and special needs are so close to heaven and are such a great example of showing the love of our Heavenly Father that we can all learn from them and love one another a little stronger to make the world a little better.”
(^^the little thumbs up…I am dead. SOOOOO cute!)