Effie and the M & Ms

Susan, Effie & M & Ms, September, 2011

Friends are often asking me how my mother is doing. She’s 84 and has Alzheimer’s. She’s been a resident of Lakeland Nursing Home in Jackson, Mississippi, for almost four years. I visit her about twice a month, and the progression of the disease is sometimes subtle, and other times more obvious. But she always has a big smile on her face and seems content there in her own little world. It’s just that her world keeps getting smaller, and her ability to carry out everyday tasks of living is declining.

Last week during my regular visit with Mom, we sat in the lobby where she can look out at the trees and flowers, which she loves. It was too hot to sit on the patio, so we stayed inside, enjoying the view. After a little while, I brought out her “treat.” I alternate taking her giant cookies from McAllister’s deli, or M & M’s—her two favorite snacks. Or at least they used to be. But when I showed her the package, she looked confused.

“What’s that?”

“It’s M & Ms, Mom. Your favorite candy.”

“Is that so?”


I poured a few into a cup. Mom has a slight tremor now and it’s easier for her to pick them up from a cup than out of the package. But she just stared at the cup, so I poured 3-4 of them onto her “lap buddy,” which keeps her from getting out of her wheelchair unassisted. (She has a hip that never healed after surgery a few years ago.)

“What am I supposed to do with those?” She pointed to the M & Ms, one orange, one blue, one red and one green.

“You eat them, Mom, like this.”

I poured a few into my hand, put them in my mouth and began to chew.

She finally picked them up and put them in her mouth. But no chewing. She just stared at me. After a few seconds, she said,

“They’re not moving around in there.”

“You have to chew them, Mom.”

Once she started chewing, she remembered that she liked them, and eventually ate the whole package. But her brain has already begun to forget simple tasks. I’ve asked the nurses about her food intake, and she seems to be eating enough to be nourished. She hasn’t lost weight and seems healthy, other than her mind. I would imagine that at meals it’s more obvious what she’s supposed to do with the food on her plate, since everyone else is putting it into their mouths and chewing.

You have to keep a sense of humor about these things.

You can read more of my posts about Mom here:

“Disappearing Stories.” At the end of that post there are links to a dozen more. If you know someone with Alzheimer’s, or if you are a caregiver yourself, I hope you can also find the humor here, amidst the dark side of this awful disease. And if I find myself in Mom’s place one day, I hope someone will remind me to chew my M & Ms.

3 thoughts on “Effie and the M & Ms”

  1. I’m watching a loved one go through the early stages of this process, and it makes me think about how our minds are made. I had the same feeling watching my daughter develop from a baby into a little girl. It feels to me like our minds have layers, like an old piece of furniture that has been painted over many times. As the outer layers chip and fade, we can see what was underneath. It’s imperfect when it comes to light the second time, so maybe we only see vestiges of it. It makes me conscious of how I think about little things I do every day that I don’t even realize are based on memory.

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