Alzheimer’s & Schizophrenia

I was actually going to title this “What I Learned From my Mother When..”, But that was a bit verbose.

Actually, I was missing mother the other day. I was missing her in an overwhelming way and with great sadness. My mother was great at gardening and my yard looks like shit right now. What with California’s water restrictions, how can anyone have a decent looking yard?  I was thinking how she could easily turn my mess into a garden of Eden. I’m also certain she and the water police would have ended up on a first name basis. She liked her plants.

dadaug06 003

Perhaps that’s why she moved to Tennessee. No water police and lots of rain for growing things.

Her Fruit Trees

Mother, who mistreated us and couldn’t get along with her children managed to grow just about anything. Plants and flowers did very well with her. She had fish ponds with fountains and lilies. Fruit trees overflowing with avocado, lemons and oranges. (I noticed she was especially fond of the dwarf varieties because she was short and she didn’t want to miss harvesting every delectable product, which she could then share with neighbors and friends. She could grow whatever her heart delighted and tended to them in a way we kids envied. Why is that do you think? I never could figure out how someone so abusive could feed and nurture plants and get them to grow prolifically while leaving her own children to starve for affection.


You might ask and well you should, “You missed that?” Well, not exactly that, but…Yes.

If you got her talking about flowers and plants, she was captive and kind. I miss her catalogue of information when it came to gardening.

I was missing and will always miss the woman I felt was somewhere buried inside and that I only occasionally got a glimpse of. I sensed deep within my soul that somewhere, out of reach, was a kind and loving human being wanting to get out. Why do I believe that? Well, I figure anyone who would give birth to five children, who are generous and have kind hearts and thoughts, must have been a good person in another life. I will never know or understand why we were cheated of the person she could have been, but we were.


When she was ten, her father contracted tuberculosis. He was a fisherman or so I believed. I don’t know why I thought that, but she talked about her father fishing and living on the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico just hours from where she’d been born in Esquinapa.

She told me that one day they were on this boat together, just the two of them and he told her to dream big. Finish school and do well. But that wasn’t to be.


When he could no longer work, she would be in charge of caring for him when his health deteriorated until he died. Grandma or as we called her Abuelita, would work.  Abuelita would sometimes make tamales and my mother would hawk them on the streets, selling her wares so they could eat. It also accounted for why mother was so generous to the street urchins in Tijuana selling Chiclets. Because the income was so little and overly time consuming,  Mother had to quit school and help while her two siblings continued getting an education.  It didn’t seem fair and I think mother always resented being the one sacrificed to her lot in life. But it was not uncommon in those days for the eldest in any family to make that sacrifice.

In time she would get hired out to care for and wait on the rich families in the area. It was here that she would develop her expensive tastes. She told me she had always dreamed of the finer things in life and of playing the piano. One day when walking by this house, she caught sight of a young girl through the window learning to play. Mom was not unlike the little match girl yearning for what was not hers to have.

This was in the 30’s and I don’t know if the depression was worldwide but it didn’t matter, their life was the depression. For a while, they lived under palm leaf lean-to’s on the beach. Mother as she got older picked up an additional chore, a weekly run to a farm to get milk and deliver it to town to sell. On this run, she was accompanied by a boy of whom she spoke fondly of so I’m guessing by now she was older and it probably did a lot to make the task a bit tolerable, but it still wasn’t an easy life.

In the early 40’s, mother moved from her native Sinaloa to Baja. With her cousin, a priest in California’s sponsorship, she was able to get work in San Diego, where she would eventually meet my dad.

She was quite a knockout and for an uneducated girl, quite classy.

Mother often spoke of her mother with disdain telling me, “you don’t know what it’s like to see your mother with other mens!”  So I guess grandma did what she could to put food on the table. I don’t know the whole story there, because I could never get any further elaboration. Was grandma selling herself, or just hooking up with whoever would help her out and give them a roof over their head? Was mother’s perception based on her loyalty to her father? There’s that too and no one would have been good enough, knowing mom. From what I gathered she had little respect for her mother. Whereas I adored her.

Unfortunately, all that bitterness carried itself over to us and her marriage.

That mother was not mentally stable was never in doubt, so when we got glimpses of who we thought she really was, we would bathe in it for however long it lasted only to be slapped in the face moments later.  It always struck me odd that no matter how many times this transpired, we always fell for it. Well, maybe not all of us, but I would. I always hoped the gear would get stuck on the good mommy and that that was the one we would get to keep.

Years later when we realized mother was not sane but suffered from schizophrenia all my siblings fled the state. I alone was left to deal with her. My brother and younger sister were in Florida and my Irish twin went to Alabama to be with my dad. Actually, I lie.  I was not alone but I was. My step siblings (there were four) had also left the state with the exception of one of the younger sisters, who had a child out of wedlock and not deemed worthy to grace mothers’ doorstep. My youngest brother was the product of my stepfather and mother and was five months older than my oldest child, so he was in no position to help deal with mother at all. After everyone had left, he would endure a nightmare only he could tell but we will never discuss. (These are older pics ) He is 50 now and the photos are not how he appears today.

We older kids at least had a  buffer in each other against her anger and spats of rage and unpredictability. Because of him, I stayed deeply involved and close by. I did my best to intervene whenever possible. At times I’d rescue him by having him over as often as I could for sleepovers with my girls.  Even so, mother would pull in the reins for fear we might turn him against  her.

When mother started accusing me of stealing a thimble or a spool of thread, I had not guessed she had Alzheimer’s.  I thought perhaps this was a deviation of her mental state. I would try to reason with her and say, “Mom, if I wanted a spool of thread, I’d ask you for it.” She would respond, “Then, why didn’t you?!” It was nonstop and ongoing. If the other sister who had by now gotten in good graces with her because of the grandchild, and happened to visit, she would be accused of stealing towels.  She was always stealing towels.

Because of HIPPA, we were never allowed the privilege of speaking to her doctors, so we were for many years out of the loop. No one would talk to us. No one would listen. Yet, I was well aware that her mental state was grave and getting progressively worse.

When my stepdad had a stroke, I was living in Colorado, so I called the authorities in Nashville and informed them of mother’s state of mind and how someone needed to attend to her. She was alone, not stable and in a panic.  Because my step dad was coherent but unable to walk well and fraught with worry about her, his wanting to be released quickly in order to get to her only validated the information I’d given them earlier. They went to the house and took her to a facility for evaluation. With both parents in care, I was all that was left to consult with doctors. My step father, gave permission for me to be included in the consultations that followed and that opened the door  for my first opportunity to discuss her state of mind.

Mom in her garden

She had several doctors but the psychiatrist was the one who broke it down. She suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder clouded by what appeared to be early stages of Alzheimer’s and/or dementia. Because of the complexity of her condition, it was hard to see where one left off and the other started. He said at this stage of her life, there was nothing we could do. If this had been diagnosed when she was younger, with medication and counseling there may have been a chance for a normal life. He said that at this age, it had now become a part of her personality. In other words, embedded in her hard drive.

The home we took her to after my step father died, proved to be invaluable. They gave us classes on how to respond, what to do and not do. Had we known this information earlier much of her data might have been rerouted.  For one, never deny. DON’T say, “I didn’t do that!” Or No, anything.  Because they will always respond, with “Yes, she/he/you did” and each time they say it, it then becomes their reality through repetition and to them it is true. Instead, side step it, change the subject and move on to something else. In mom’s case, the neighbors were coming in and stealing beans, flour, coffee, detergent and heaven knows what else and I would argue,” how could they?” She would respond “up the back porch.” and I “but it’s 20 feet high and there are no steps to it.” and she, “Yes, but they are in construction, they have tall ladders.” and so it goes.  So my advice? Don’t bother arguing with them.

Also, don’t make this mistake. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THEIR MIND.

When my husband and I finally got permission to move her down to Alabama from Tennessee where I stayed until the court gave me permission to move her, she was like a child wondering how long it was going to take. It went like this,

She:”Where are we going?”

I: “To my house”

She: “Where’s that?” ,

I: Alabama. (She didn’t like that)

She:”That’s where your dad lives. How long is it going to take?”

I: “Three hours.”

She: “Are we there yet?”

After those two lines of questions were established, she settled on three. How far, how long and are we there yet.

My responses were, “not far, in a couple of hours and no.

At one point, I varied it, tiring of the same answer and I said something like, one hour, 45 minutes and so forth.  Then one time I changed it back and she said, “No, you said… ” Russ and I cracked up.

When the home she was in determined she needed a full time sitter, I knew I couldn’t afford that. My sister moved up from Florida and we bought a house together, baby proofed it to meet health care specifications for her situation.  We took the knobs off the stove, put special locks and alarms on the door, ones she couldn’t reach to prevent her from exiting without our knowledge.

This was still a concern though because even with the demented mine, they found ways. Like the story of an old Marine officer who after he retired became an electrician.  He dismantled the alarm system and when the nurses went to check on the patients, they were all gone.  This old guy had delegated various patients to manage those less able and they were marching down the street for a getaway. They knew this old codger nor his troops would be easily corralled because they were marching with purpose. In fact, to confront them might cause them to scatter, so the doctor got the van and went straight to the commander in charge.  She said, “It looks like you could use some help”  and he looked at her and sighed, ” I sure could. These soldiers can’t get it together” or some such.

So, yes locks were a must and in her case they were put high on the door jam. We also didn’t include footstools because it would not have taken long for her to find them. Even so, my sister got distracted one day while changing mothers bed after she’d had an accident and I had only been gone five minutes, when Di calls to say, mom disappeared. She was crying too. It was 16 degrees out and mother was in a thin nightie and barefoot! We called 911 and the police only a couple of blocks away, came quickly. I turned around, but fortunately by then one of the neighbors had spotted her first and headed her home.

Like a child, she looked up at me and said, “It’s cold.” and I scolded her as you would a child, telling her “not to worry us like that again!”  She said, “Okay”



Yes, I miss my mother. I missed her my whole life and yet she left her mark on me. Because of mother, I will like plants and flowers and pretty things. Expensive things. I like diamonds and gold. Nice clothes, nice houses. Cleanliness. Fancy restaurants, travel and many things I can live without but don’t want to. My mom taught me to reach for the stars and so I will until I die.

Mom wanted to live vicariously through me pushing me to do the things she always wanted to do herself but felt ill equipped to do because of her lack of education.

Me and my beauty pageant trophies

Yet mom, taught herself to read and write. She studied all the time and I think of her always determined to better herself. Mom did the best with what she had.

I look at it this way. I’m still going for my dream, however late in life it is I’m starting, It’s those dreams and that drive she instilled in me that move me forward and keeps my mind active.

I have dreams of one day writing the finest Academy Award winning screenplay ever and saying, “Mom, this is for you!”

We’ll see.




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