The Saintly Mother
by Eloisa Ramos
Maria with Alzheimers Disease (Age 92, 2011)
The last major event in Maria's life before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease was the death of her husband, Cruz.
Maria was born in 1920 in a very small agricultural town in central Mexico. She did not go to school past the first grade because she helped her father plant the crops they subsisted on.
She was the second to the oldest of 5 girls and one boy. Her only brother died when he was 21 from illness.
Maria grew up a devout Catholic. Her mother believed in keeping the girls busy by working or praying, to keep them away from temptation in thought or deed.
Her mother would empty a kilo of dried beans on the ground and would ask young Maria and her sisters to pick them up, simply to keep them busy.
One story Maria told without noticeable emotion before her Alzheimer's, was the time her mother was pushed to the ground and repeatedly hit on the head by her sister-in-law.
At that time Maria was only five years of age and tried to help her mother by throwing pebbles at her aunt sitting on top of her mother. I suspect this event was very traumatic for her.
When Maria was age 15 her mother sent her to live with her grandmother. Maria was to live with her grandmother in the next town to take care of her.
Her grandmother had moved there to be near a church that had daily mass. Maria stayed with her grandmother cooking and cleaning for 2 years, until her grandmother passed.
Maria married Cruz at the age of 17. She told me that getting a "good" husband--one that didn't drink and beat you--was a matter of luck. She got lucky with Cruz.
One of her sisters was not so lucky. She was beaten regularly by her husband and often did not have food to eat. Her sister died in her early 30's.
Maria's mother also died before her time, soon after Maria married. Her mother bled to death after burning a birthmark on her eyebrow with acid which became infected.
This was also tragic to watch her mother die since they had no medical doctors in the town and they could not afford one from the nearby city.
Maria turned to prayer and her religion at all times, but especially during difficult situations. When her town finally had its own priest, she went to mass every day at 6:00 am.
She told me how she really wanted to be a nun, but her family could not afford the clothes and linen she needed to enter the convent.
Maria's views on the body made her uncomfortable seeing her daughters dressed in shorts,low cut or sleeveless blouses. She dressed very conservatively and expected her daughters to follow her example.
She told a story of a woman who disobeyed an went to a dance only to be taken by the devil when coming home late at night.
Sex was never talked about. Hugging and close physical contact with others was not practiced beyond a certain age.
Although Maria breastfed and carried all her children in a "rebozo", a shawl, until the ages of 2 or 3, once the kids were older, physical contact was stopped.
I remember feeling awkward when we were lined up to give our dad a kiss on his birthday. The one exception to physical contact was when she gave us massages when we were sick, had body aches or we asked for one.
Maria was a sacrificing and hard working mother putting the physical needs of her husband and children before hers. She would always cook and serve the meals and eat last. Often she ate our left overs.
She took "her place" beneath her husband following the traditional female role of her time and culture. Of course, she also expected her four daughters to do the same. I failed to meet her expectations.
She loved children and being a mother. With her Alzheimers she would often ask for her kids, believing we were still young. When her grand kids visited, she would follow them around taking care of them.
Maria's second child died at age 6 from a scorpion bite and she lost a couple of others after birth. She may have held herself responsible here, since her job as the mother was to take care of them.
She was never separate from her kids, with one exception, when the nearby river flooded and left her stranded in the next town for a week.
She experienced more hard times when food became very scarce. A plague of Mad Cow Disease hit their town in the 1940's and the government confiscated all cattle in the town. They were left without milk and meat.
To this day, even with her Alzheimers, she loves drinking milk and smiles when you give it to her. If you offer her water, she complains.
In the 1950's, Cruz came to the U.S.A. to earn more money and left her to take care of the household. With eight kids she had her hands full.
In 1968 her husband brought the whole family to live in Northern California. This was a significant and major change in her life. The climate, language and customs were very different.
Maria lived in the outskirts of Fortuna and could not drive nor speak English. She had no close family or anyone to talk to. She tried to learn English and drive a car but never did.
She was completely dependent on her husband to take her where she needed to go. When her kids learned English she became dependent on them to translate for her when she ran errands.
Maria loved to garden and had a green thumb. Her plants and fruit trees were her pride and joy. She also enjoyed knitting and sewing. She was very good with her hands, but I could hear her comment to herself sometimes, "I'm so stupid", when she made mistakes or forgot something.
Besides a bout with tuberculosis in Mexico and some minor issues with a stomach ulcer and hemorrhoids in the USA, Maria's physical health was great. In her later years she developed Osteoporosis and some arthritis in her left knee. These cleared with alternative medicine, however.
Maria was first put on an Alzheimers medication called Aricep when she was first given an Alzheimers disease diagnosis. This made her dizzy, even in small dosages, so the doctor stopped giving it to her.
She has not taken any other medications since. I have used surrogate EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to help her with anxiety and fears.
Maria was not comfortable expressing her emotions. The only time I saw her cry, was when Cruz was going to cut down a tree in the back yard.
I remember her telling my sister that if her husband was telling her something unpleasant, to "pretend you don't hear".
Besides the short-term memory loss, some of the major events she forgot early on was the death of her mother, father and her husband. She also forgot her children's weddings. She would worry about the man with me, (my husband) because she didn't remember I was married.
I had a conversation with her when her Alzheimers was in the early stages and she could still follow what I was saying. I explained that if she did not want to remember the difficult things in her past, she would also loose the happy memories too.
I then asked her if she wanted to remember when her husband died. I saw her eyes begin to water, as if she was recalling the event, but then she quickly blocked it and said, "Whatever is God's will." End of conversation.
Religion, sin and God were very much a part of her life. For some reason, in the middle stages of her Alzheimers she confused going to the bathroom with going to church for communion.
She would worry about leaving a mess there for the priest. However as of 2011, she still remembers how to cross herself--a Catholic ritual of making a cross on five points on the body and face, while saying, "In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen."
After her husband died a grand daughter moved in with her. However after two years, she lived alone in her house.
I think living alone was really difficult for her, even though we called and visited her every day. Within a year we started noticing that she would forget to turn off the water, or the gas stove!
I think that grief and the loss of her loved ones, whether through death or marriage, was traumatic for her but she hid it well. She took refuge in her rosary and prayers. It was very hard to tell how she felt about anything.
She worked hard at being obedient and pleasing to God and a good mother to us. I love and appreciate her very much.