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Losing My Mother

She bathed you, fed you—and loved you unconditionally. Then, one day that changed, and you became the caregiver. Author Judy Goldman grapples with one of life’s turning points.

By Judy Goldman
Mary Notsch and her daugher, ClaireCoral Von Zumwalt


When I went to my father to share what I had observed, he told his own story. She couldn’t unlock the door that led from the garage into the house. The first time it happened, he said, she tried to fit the key into the hole. But she kept missing, poking it into the brass surround over and over again. It was as though her fingers didn’t belong to her.

I blamed all these alarming mishaps on what I considered her advanced age: She was 65. (Of course, our parents always seem old to us, even when they’re not.) The changes kept on coming, though; her personality began to alter dramatically. My normally buoyant mother had become pessimistic, withdrawn, depressed.

In November, my father; my husband, Henry; and I were at my sister Brenda’s home in Charlotte for dinner. Mother was away, visiting her own sisters. Before we got to the table, before we had even taken off our jackets—in the front hall, under that merciless overhead light—we compared notes. One story, then another. The words like matches striking.

In our family, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, was the final word on health. My parents and my aunts and uncles had flown there together many times over the years just to get checked out. They got excited about these trips, as though they were heading to a spa or some other glamorous destination.

This time my parents flew to Mayo, in the middle of winter, alone. When they returned, Henry and I picked them up at the airport and drove them home. My parents talked about everything but the diagnosis. They told us about the underground tunnel from their hotel to the hospital; how they had never ventured outside, because the city was frozen. It wasn’t until after we had brought in the suitcases that my parents told us the real news.

That morning, the doctor had sat across from them in his office and delivered the results: Alzheimer’s disease.

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