Conversations with a (familiar) stranger…..

I’m going to date myself here….big time!  Who remembers a movie called “The Three Faces of Eve”?

Thought so.

Way back in 1957, Joanne Woodward played the starring role in this fascinating story about a real-life woman who suffered from Multiple-Personality Disorder caused by a traumatic childhood event.

You can Google it.

What does this have to do with the basis of my Blog which is about my mother’s affliction with Alzheimer’s disease?  Well, (and I’m reaching here) the whole “multiple personality” issue is something I experienced as a caregiver.  Some days, it was hilarious, and others…downright maddening as my mother went through interesting phases of identity.

A few brief recollections of Mother Didn’t Know Best. 

                  ( Dialogue key (Moi=Blue    Mother=Red)

Daily conversations almost always went like this and, yes, mom had a potty mouth.  What can I say.

“morning mom, it’s time to get up and get ready for day care”

“who the hell are you?”

“I’m your daughter”

“well… shit”

“don’t you remember me, mom?”

 “no, I don’t, I’m sorry.   I have to urinate, hurry UP”

 “mom, you have diapers on, you’ll be fine.  I’m going to get your clothes ready for today”

 “no I WON’T, dammit.  where’s my keys?”

“what do you need keys for?”

 “I have to go home now”

“how about we just get you into the bathroom?”

“for what?”

 And, one morning, Mom was waiting in the Breakfast Nook when I came down the hall.

“hi mom….where did you get that coffee?”

“what coffee?”

“uh…the cup in front of you?”

“oh, that man down the hall gave it to me”

“man down the hall?”

“yes….him” <pointing a finger>

Just then, my husband came into the kitchen and fessed-up to giving her coffee when he found her sitting there.
From that point forward, he came to be known only as…”the man down the hall”.


Evenings brought many interesting performances from my mother’s room, usually starting around 11 p.m. and continuing until about 4 a.m.  Keep in mind that my mother wore a Posey restraint in bed, to keep her from falling out and getting out the front door which she did at regular intervals When she was on stage, I was right outside her door, yawning, listening, holding a cup of coffee and gritting my teeth.

“sonofabitch, I can’t untie this!  help…….help!”

“that’s just great, no one is home”

“oh hi….can you get me scissors from that desk over there?”

“none?  SHIT!  help……help………HELP!”

Allow me to step into this conversation to state that there was no one in her room except for whoever was visible only to her.

 One more late night performance:

“Dr. Stein, can you please come to Pat Strollo’s room?”

“hellooooooooo…..Dr. Stein?”

“nurse, what’s the matter with you, can’t you hear me, dammit?  Get me Dr. Stein!”

“Dr. Stein, I want to go home!”

“nurse, I have to urinate”

“Shit, where the hell is everybody, I have to get to work!”

“Dr. Stein, I’m going to report you!”


Jumping in here again to state, first,  that my mother’s maiden name was Strollo;  her married name, Smith, ceased to exist as Alzheimer’s marched through her brain. Mom was in the Twilight Zone going back about 60 years or more that night and, I have no idea where Dr. Stein came from, or the nurse.  With no offense to anyone of the Jewish faith who might read this, my mother never had a physician who wasn’t a Christian.  I still cannot figure that one out.

Shortly before my Mom died, she was sitting on the couch and when I walked over she exclaimed, “There she is, there’s my daughter!” I quickly went and sat down next to her.  For a brief time, there was recognition and somewhat sane conversation as my mother asked me what was wrong with her and why she couldn’t remember; she was suddenly aware and her mind focused on the present.  In a moment of sheer stupidity, on my part, I told her to wait and I would run and make us both coffee so we could sit and talk some more.

Cookies and coffee in hand, I excitedly returned to sit with her;  as I did, she looked up and said, “Oh hi!  I’m sorry, but I forgot your name.”

She was gone; back into the deepest shadows of her memories and I was back on the outside, still trying to get in.

Two weeks later, she passed away, still not remembering my name.







  1. Natalie says:

    I sort of want to have a good cry now, hug you really hard, and then go find my Momma and hug her too and beg her to never forget me. I can't imagine how hard it must've been to experience these things with your Mother; i can't imagine how strong you must be to be able to remember them and write about them.

    • Patty says:

      I remember because I have to, Nat; it's become a mission for me in not forgetting and leaving my family with similar pain.

      Give your Mom a hug from me, just because.

  2. Crystal says:

    I don't even know what to write– I love reading what your write, you are truly an inspiration! Promise if you take a trip to Canada you will look me up.


  3. May says:

    i bounced over here after reading your newer post on early memory. Oh, my gosh….tears are streaming down my face and words fail me. As I read what you said about your mom's powers of denial when she was well i thought of my own mom. I wonder how much of that is generational. Anyway, Mom had her 92nd birthday last week and I am off to help with her care tomorrow. Your words will travel with me.

    Alzheimers is so very cruel. It was agonizing to read your words. I can't imagine living them. The picture of you returning with cookies and coffee to find the moment had passed is absolutely heart wrenching.

    That kind of caregiving is a thankless and relentless job. You have my admiration for having done it.

    Peace and hugs to you. Thanks for sharing. I hope it helped some.

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