What Alzheimer’s can’t take away: a mother’s love

By Claudia Zapata | 2017-05-12 01:58:15 | 62 Comments


Mami & me SPI

Update: my mother is still as loving as ever, but Alzheimer’s continues to rob her – and her family – of so much. It’s heartbreaking, and not a day goes by where I don’t want to collapse with grief (and some days I do). Conversations and outings have become even tougher since I wrote this post two years ago. Every daily activity seems to be challenging now. And yet, the hugs and I love you’s are still plentiful and for that I am so very grateful. Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful Mami.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for the past couple of years, but a big part of me hasn’t been able to admit the truth: my mother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

The diagnosis of dementia given to us about three years ago still feels like a mistake. Knowing the disease will inevitably get worse? That feels paralyzingly frightening.

I miss my mother. She still knows who I am, knows to ask about my husband and kids, and still tells me she adores me (and, I know I need to hang on to all of that with dear life), but my siblings and I all miss what we knew, miss what perhaps could have been.

How to describe her? Mami, as we call her, is a successful career woman who also did absolutely everything at home – as in wait on my dad and four kids kind of everything. She grew up on the Mexican side of the Texas-Mexico border and crossed the bridge daily to attend private school in Texas. Later, my mom became a boarder student, and never mind that English was her second language, she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class. In college in San Antonio, she majored in French and spent her junior year in Paris studying languages (she spoke five) – all unheard of for a young girl from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. After marrying my father, Mami went on to become an English and French teacher in Laredo, Texas. She earned her master’s degree while working full time and caring for four young children and then went on to spend 30 years as a court interpreter for the U.S. federal courts. In short, she was our superwoman.

The lessons she imparted are countless, but here are a few: love reading and value education; put family first (as in you are the last to sit at the dinner table and the first to rise and start cleaning the dishes, which used to make me protest and roll my eyes, but darn it, now I do it too); sit and behave “like a lady” (apparently, ladies sit up so straight they are later teased by friends who can spot their good posture across the AT&T center); turn a raw tortilla only once when it’s cooking on the griddle; save your skin by staying out of the sun (that pic above must have been an exception) and your sanity by putting your kids to bed early; laugh until you cry, especially when watching a Chevy Chase movie; be both a strong woman and a kind and giving one.

I can only imagine what my mom would be doing if Alzheimer’s wasn’t robbing her of her short term memory. Would she have gone back to school after retirement to finish that PhD she began long ago? Would she have been up for a girls’ trip with my sister and me? Would she still cook her famous chicken and rice when we visited? Would she have read another 100 books (my mother is a book-a-day kind of reader)?

The best part of today’s Mother’s Day was the phone call to my mom. She couldn’t tell you the date on the calendar, but when I called her, she knew it was Mother’s Day. With joy in her voice and her heart, she wished me a happy Mother’s day, too and even remembered to tell me to thank my brother for the flowers that arrived yesterday. We told each other we not only loved each other, but adored each other. We always do.

Today was a good day for my mom. They aren’t always. But, while her golden years are undoubtedly different than any of us expected, here’s what Alzheimer’s can’t take – my mother’s love for us. She may not always know what day it is or where we are going or whose birthday we are celebrating, but she knows how much my father and siblings and I matter. We are everything to her.

I can never live up to the woman my mother was and still is, but I am so grateful the most generous, selfless, hardest-working, affectionate and loving woman I have ever known is my Mami. I won’t let Alzheimer’s take that away.

Te adoro, Mami!



62 responses to “What Alzheimer’s can’t take away: a mother’s love”

  1. Sharene says:

    This was beautiful! The amazement of your “Mami” is displayed through you! Happy Mother’s day to you and your Mami! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Sharene. Appreciate you taking the time to leave me a message. Miss seeing you!

  2. Gisela Girard says:

    Claudia, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write this. Your journey will help many others dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s. Our mothers were always our Rock of Gibralter and when they have Alzheimer’s or cancer as my mother does, we ask many why’s. Always cherish the wonderful joyful times. I remember seeing your Mom at a Spurs game when we used to go more often. She is beautiful! I’m sure she is so proud of you and especially on this Mother’s Day.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you, Gisela. I appreciate your kind words. I like to say my dad is the rock of the family, but it’s my mother who can move mountains for her children. Sending you love and healing prayers for your own beautiful mom. xo

  3. Margaret Jones Hagelman says:

    Claudia, I’m moved to tears by this lovely tribute to your mother. You may never know how many people may be helped by your tender words, and in what ways. Love is stronger than any opponent. I needed to remember that this Mother’s Day.

  4. Terry T. says:

    Lovely. This testament brought tears to my eyes, God bless her and your family with many more years of happiness.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you so much, Terry. I am so grateful for the kind words many of you have offered!

  5. Ysela says:

    beautifully written.

  6. Lori Hakspiel says:

    We went through this with my dad’s mom and pray we will not face it again with either parent who are now at 80 years of age…You are graciously taking this situation well. I pray for continued recognizable links between y’all that NEVER fade. Hugs – Happy Mother’s Day Claudia – your an amazing woman and a true testament to her character.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words and prayers, Lori. Truly appreciate you taking the time to drop me a note. xo

  7. Beth says:

    What a lovely tribute to your mom. Thanks for sharing all of her wonderful qualities – you are her daughter!

  8. This should be republished on the Rivard Report with these loving photos. So many of us have lost our living parents to dementia.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you, Bob. Would be happy to have it republished on the RR. Send me an email and let me know if you need anything else from me. I can find more pics…

  9. Anita Demps says:

    Thank you for feeling powerful enough to share your story. Cherish the moments of clarity. Dell’s mom has had it for at least 7 years. Happy Mother’s Day

  10. Arlene Rash Aldridge says:

    Dearest Claudia,
    What a wonderful and inspiring tribute to your beautiful mother! She is all that and more… Her mother, your grandmother, was also an amazing person, full of love and wisdom. I remember her well.

  11. Thank you for sharing that story with us and for sharing some of your mother’s wisdom too. I’m so sorry that your mom and your family are going through this. Dementia touched our family as well and it was truly heart-breaking. Alzheimer’s is a horribly cruel disease but it can never erase the amazing woman that your mom is.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Sally. It is a long and cruel journey, and I need to cherish every day with her. xo

  12. Cynthia says:

    Oh Claudia, I will hold your mom and your family in my prayers. Such a hard journey.

  13. Laura A. McCoy says:

    Claudia, this is beautiful and speaks volumes of your love and admiration for your mother.

  14. Olivia B. says:

    She is an outstanding woman for sure! and so are you.
    Love how you put this difficult subject into
    words that we can all relate to. Thanks for sharing. Olivia B

  15. Donna says:

    I lost my mother to this cruel disease 7 months ago and with yesterday being the first Mother’s Day without her, I couldn’t finish what I know is a wonderful story you so brilliantly shared. But I will read it in its entirety before too long because you have a beautiful way with words.

    My mother inspired me so much; I think about her every day and cherish all of the amazing memories. Nothing compares to a Mother’s love.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Donna, I was crying after your first sentence. I am so very sorry about your mom. A mother’s love is so strong, it lives on long after she’s gone through her children. Thank you for taking the time to write your kind words. I know it must have been so hard. XO

  16. Erica G.C. says:

    That was so beautiful

  17. Earline Long-Zlotkowski says:

    My adored Mother, my closest and dearest friend since the day I was born, is much further advanced in the disease. She lived with my husband and me for 11 years, until we could no longer keep her safe, and moved her into an Alzheimer’s community 5 minutes from our home. I see her every single day, and most days she knows me. Her accomplishments were all involved with her love of her family, and she was the best! I cry almost every day when I leave her, so confused and lost and scared. But she still knows she loves her children and grandchildren, even is she doesn’t remember all their names. She asks about them all (over and over and over) every day. She asks why Daddy doesn’t visit…he’s been gone for 39 years. It’s a cruel, devastating disease. But I never lose sight of her importance in my life and how very much I love her.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Oh Earline, I am so very sorry. So many friends can relate and through their heartbreaking stories, I know the road only gets more cruel and more difficult. Thank you for sharing the story of your love for your mother and your mother’s love for her family. Nothing can take that away. We are not alone. Prayers and love…

  18. Susana Serna says:

    Thank you! My mother, my superhero, was diagnosed 5 years ago and it hit us hard. She too was a strong vibrant woman who worked hard to make sure we all had what we needed. While she was not a college graduate, she was the only one of 15 children who finished high school and therefore education was a priority in our family. She provided a love of reading and our Mexican heritage as well all the while sacrificing things for herself to provide my 2 brothers and I a Catholic school education. I come from a long line of strong women and I had big shoes to fill…but my mother is not the mom I knew, the one I looked up to, the one who was always there when I needed her. Alzheimer’s has taken that from us, but it will never take away her love. She still tells us and her grandchildren she loves them and us and she still knows who we are, and for that we are truly grateful. The day will come when she won’t know I’m her daughter, her first born, her best friend, and I will miss her more then ever, but it can never take away the love. Thank you for sharing…you are never alone!

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Dear Susana,
      I had to step away from my computer after reading your comment. Thank you for sharing the story of your beautiful and proud mother – she sounds so similar to my own. And, you’re right – nothing can take away the love we feel for them and them for us, and we are not alone. That thought is so very comforting. Thank you again.
      Love and prayers,

  19. Leslie Mouton says:

    Claudia – your respect and love for your mom shines through! You never cease to amaze me! So proud of your courage to talk about something so personal. You will touch many lives!

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you, sweet friend. She is my everything. Appreciate you sharing our story. XO

  20. Connie says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, I know from experience that it took a while for me to share, maybe denial, maybe stigma, but the more you share the more you realize you are not alone, and it is therapeutic to know that you may actually be helping and inspiring others by sharing your story. My father lost his battle after a 4 year struggle with it. It was a long goodbye and we felt blessed to have him as long as we did. We were told he wouldn’t last through the year he was diagnosis. Prayers for you and your family to get through this challenge and be a champion and warrior for your sweet Mami.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Dear Connie,
      I am so sorry about the loss of your father to this cruel disease. It is hard to admit, as if somehow saying it out loud makes it more true. But there is no denying my mother is not the same – except for her love. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me a comment. Can’t tell you how much the kind words and prayers have meant to me and my family! Love, Claudia

  21. Sam Ponce says:

    Claudia, Thank You! for the wonderful story about your mom. My mother also succumbed to the languishing effects of Dementia and Alzheimer’s….My family and I, are grateful to you for bringing a much needed awareness for a disease that robs us of our precious Mom’s every year. Our thoughts and prayers for your Mami……. Sam

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you for sharing this, Sam. So sorry this cruel disease took your precious mother. Appreciate the kind words and prayers more than you know.

  22. Esther Munoz says:

    Claudia, I have walked in your shoes. It takes tremendous courage to tell your story, when some days you just want to hide in the closet and cry your eyes out. I lost my precious Mother the day after Mothers Day in 2010, but in reality I lost her years before that. I became like her Mother and she like my child. I shielded her from bad news and made medical decisions for her. As my father had died two years previous to her, upon her passing I felt like an orphan, a true Motherless Child. It was a feeling I carry with me to this day. I would trade the riches of the world for one more hour with her. Thank God for the precious memories that both I and my children have of her. She was my best friend. I feel your pain and you and your family will be in my prayers.

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Oh Esther, I am so sorry about losing your precious mother to this horrific disease. Your comment brought me to tears. I am certain your beautiful mother is with you in all you do – nothing can take away her love. Thank you for the thoughts and prayers. They mean so very much..

  23. Mary Margaret says:

    beautiful and poignant. I will always have a special ace in my heart for your mother. She has always been loving , kind and brutally honest lol. As in telling me to keep going while Placing a hand on my cheek. All of her children and grandchildren resemble her in these attributes. Happy Mother’s Day to you both.

  24. Irma Trautmann says:

    Claudia, loved what you expressed about your beautiful Mother , have known her for many years and she is amazing . We will keep you and your family in our prayers.
    Love Irma and Bob

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Thank you, Irma. So kind of you to reach out – appreciate the thoughts and the prayers. Un abrazo!

  25. Dahlia Varela says:

    Although, I dont personally know your mother, her story is very similar to my mami, the disease is heart wrenching and the journey was hard. But every moment more precious than the next. I lost her last year. thank you for sharing your story and may god bless you and your family

    • Claudia Zapata MS, RD says:

      Dear Dahlia,
      Thank you so much. I am so very sorry about your mother. Your thoughts and sentiments mean so much, and the heartfelt comments like yours that I have been receiving from readers are giving my family much-needed strength.
      Warmest regards,

  26. I was waiting for a quiet moment to read your article, since I knew it would bring me into tears… Your mother is amazing, and she raised 4 beautiful kids, that raised fantastic grandkids!

  27. Loretta Reyes says:

    God bless your mother, you and all of your family. I will be keeping all of you in my prayers.

  28. Andrea Bottiglieri says:

    Claudia – this was beautifully written, brought tears to my eyes. I felt the love you both share. I love the picture at the beach, she was a real style icon – certainly reminds me of you! Prayers for you all always.

  29. Nivia Gonzalez says:

    A beautiful and touching tribute to your Mami…que Dios la bendiga!

  30. Cordy Longoria Lara says:

    So beautiful! God bless you and your mom!

  31. Elsa Alaniz says:

    I know exactly what you and your family are going thru. My mother was diagnosed with dementia many year ago while at the nursing home and has slowly been deteriorating. She now has Alzheimer and is forgettingany things including some of my brothers and sisters. It can be very heartbreaking, but all we can do is show her our love.

    • Claudia Zapata says:

      Dear Elsa,
      I am so sorry about your mom going through the same thing. It’s so tough. Love and prayers for your mom and family.
      Un abrazo,

  32. Carisa Heiss says:


    I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s 2 1/2 years ago, about 6 years after her diagnosis. I feel your pain and lived the story of seeing the woman who raised me transform into someone else. Two things remained the same – her faith and love of her family. She reached a point that she didn’t know me, my kids or husband by name yet would still light up when we walked in a room. One day, while helping her get ready for a family function, she grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and told me, ‘You’re so nice. I really like you.’ My heart broke in a million pieces but now I look back on that and am grateful that despite all the disease took from her, it didn’t take away her love for us. I hope you and your family stay close to each other through these uncharted waters. And I hope your mom is always able to find her way of showing her love for you. Prayers.

    • Claudia Zapata says:

      Hi Carisa,
      Your note brought me to tears. Thank you so much for sharing and thank you for your kind words. I am so sorry about losing your mother. It is so very hard. Prayers and love. xo

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