I am watching the slow demise of my mother’s family. My mother, Irene, currently suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She is the middle child of a family of 6 children. She is one of only two still alive. Two of her sisters passed away this year (one also having suffered from Alzheimer’s disease). Even though my mother had not seen her sisters on a regular basis for years, and she is suffering from Alzheimer’s herself, she continues to grieve their absence.
I am fascinated by how this disease affects my mother’s memory. Many times she believes that my sisters and I are her sisters, as opposed to her daughters, and frequently calls us by her sisters’ names. But when we must tell her of the passing of one of her sisters, she is very clear on whom we are talking about, and she is determined to see her before it is too late (which it usually is…).
I see how the disease works on my mother’s mind and know what time of her life she is living – when she was young, when her sisters were healthy. To relate to mom we very often have to adjust to that time as best we can – let her think we’re her sisters, play the roles, not rock the boat. It’s an odd thing to have to do, but we find that it keeps her steady and comfortable in a way that constantly reminding her of reality doesn’t.
As I think of my mother’s family and my aunts (the women my sisters and I are now taken for), I think about who they were: strong women who had many children, the youngest having the fewest -- only 3 boys! Proud Irish Catholics! These women led their families to great growth and success - no failure was permitted. And I look at my sisters and see the same type of women: strong women who don’t accept failure.
While my generation has not had as many children as the previous had -- in fact, only two of us have kids, and one had her first at the age of 46! -- the children we have are strong, smart and successful. I watch the respect and love the children have for their mothers and aunts, and I see how these women impact their lives -- similar to the impact our aunts had on us!
I read the death notices of my aunts and am surprised to learn things about them I either did not know or forgot. They were all born during the early 20th century when women were meant to remain at home and raise children -- which they did and did very well, but they were also teachers, office staff, volunteers and homeroom moms. All continued education beyond high school. They were also very devoted to each other. Some of my cousins and sisters believe that my aunt Anita, who passed away earlier in the year, had something to do with my Aunt Kate passing away a few weeks ago -- the power of talking to God and convincing him to bring Aunt Kate home! Wow what influence!
The years pass – but even in the face of disease and death, my aunts’ legacy of strength, influence and devotion does not waiver. I am blessed to be a part of this legacy.
Rosemary Russell, daughter of Irene Russell (currently suffering from Alzheimer disease) is the owner and president of Business Women’s Advisory Council located outside Philadelphia, Pa. Rosemary is a retired Human Resources executive with the passion and mission to help women succeed in business.