I have been impersonating my mom to pay my parents’ credit card bills, sort out the cable provider, turn down business solicitations, even fix the water bill.
My mom used to handle these things, but her mind is not what it used to be. Mom lives in a closed Alzheimer’s ward. Her Hebrew used to be good as she’d lived here as a 10-year-old in 1949 before returning to London.
As my Hebrew is better than my dad’s, I am now tasked with making calls for him to insurance agents, banks, stores, government offices, doctors, you name it. It is so much easier to take on Mom’s persona than explain that I’m the adult daughter making arrangements for him. As most of these interactions are by phone, it is easy to pass myself off as Mom.
When they ask for Mom’s birth date and ID number, I’m ready for them. I have a copy of Mom’s ID card, which contains all her information. And if I fumble over a date, I claim it’s because I am still not used to the European system where the day is listed before the month. Leniency is always given when they hear my thick American accent (despite living in Israel for almost 30 years!).
This blurring of our identities has been going on for years.
The thing is, the last thing I want is to be Mom as she is now. Mom often sits and stares vacuously. Or she speaks nonsensically about red sheep, or needing to go out to the store. Or, if the occupational therapist can get her to focus, she draws letters and lines on a blank form. I would not wish Alzheimer’s on anyone.
I want to embody her as she was — vivacious, friendly, curious, loving.
It’s true that I can sometimes find that woman hidden deep within her current transformation, but it is for minutes at a time.
Perhaps I am the embodiment of Mom. I certainly look like her: we have the same general shape and features. And I’d like to think I share those valued characteristics she personified. I am also the repository of her memories, her link to the past, an eyewitness to much of her life. Perhaps this is the way of all daughters charged with keeping the memory of their mothers alive. I only know that Alzheimer’s has intensified my understanding — and my desire — to fan the embers of her existence and share them with the ones I love.