In the middle of high school, something seemed “off” about my mom. She began forgetting things and had trouble remembering words in the middle of conversation. I started to question whether or not my relatively young mother had Alzheimer’s. In September of 2008, she was formally diagnosed with early onset dementia.
Unsure about how her disease could develop (or even, what exactly her disease was), I panicked. I did then what I normally do in states of panic – I googled.
Google, however, didn’t provide solace (or much of anything, really). What I did learn was that the average life expectancy after diagnosis was between three and seven years, and that my mother would lose a lot of her cognitive skills. I was a senior in high school at the time, and I really didn’t know what to make of everything.
For the majority of high school, I was incredibly introverted. I spent most of my time hanging out in my basement scratching, making beats, and listening to music. I kept to myself and said very little to anyone (including my parents). Although I knew I wanted meaningful relationships with my mom and dad, I figured I’d have adulthood to forge them.
“Three to seven years.” I couldn’t stop fixating on that. While averages are just averages, I couldn’t help but think about how quickly my mom would die. Even if she were to stay alive longer than the “average,” I was afraid that she would lose a large chunk of her cognitive abilities and become a completely different person.
At the time I didn’t know what to do. I considered delaying college to stay at home for a while, but was ultimately convinced to go to UW-Madison after receiving a full tuition scholarship. My dad told me that I’d be an idiot to turn down the opportunity.
For the last five and a half years, I’ve been mentally preparing for my mom’s death. Each time I visited home, I knew things could be worse. As the reality of my mom’s disease set in, I started to think incessantly about all of the things I’d miss out on: I’d never have an “adult” relationship with her, she’d never see me get married or have kids (if I decided to), she’d never see me perform live, I’d never get to share career accomplishments with her, etc. Slowly my vivid memories of her pre-high school were filled in by dementia ones. I started scrambling to remember who my mom actually was.
It took me awhile, but for a time I thought I was comfortable with the idea of my mom dying. Although I would miss out on a lot of experiences with her in adulthood, she taught me so much about life pre-dementia. If it weren’t for my mom, I’d never love and appreciate music the way I do. I mean, who else would have gotten me into Luther Vandross???
At around 8 am today, my mother passed away. Despite “preparing” for her death as best as I could (like anyone can prepare for the death of a loved one, lol), I’m still a bit in shock. I’ve begun to revisit those challenges that first arose five and a half years ago. Although it feels awful to know that I won’t have an “adult” relationship with my mom, I have to remind myself that I have so much to be thankful for.
That being said…
I can’t thank you enough for all of the sacrifices you’ve made for me and LaShonda. Even though you’re no longer with us, anything and everything you’ve ever taught me/shown me will continue to be a part of my core. I will always wish that I could have spent more time with you in high school, but all teens go through that angsty “I want nothing to do with my parents” phase. I’m going to continue to work my hardest, make myself happy, and make you proud.
I love you,
1) don’t take your health for granted. ever.
2) the ability to remember things is invaluable. appreciate it.
3) music is powerful and healing. it can force the voiceless to sing again.