Monday, April 2, 2012

My Mommy Tribute: B is for Bookkeeping

My mother's main occupation outside of the home was a bookkeeper. She had worked as a secretary for her local school district when she first got out of school. In later years, after she met my father and they opened their furniture store, she did the books for the business. This also meant that she was the one who handled most of the household finances. When I started Montessori kindergarten, she started to take care of certain aspects of the school's bookkeeping, such as billing and payments for after school care. This was to offset the tuition for my sister and I, because it was worth the expense to them to keep us there.

I learned a lot about how to keep track of inventory, to create a bill of sale and how to invoice clients because my mother often had us sit with her while she worked. She felt it was an important skill for us to learn. Mom was somewhat old-fashioned in that she still believed women needed to learn secretarial skills as back-up job skills. But at the same time, they were excellent life skills that I have applied time and time again both in my day-to-day life and at various jobs.

I have many memories of spending late nights with my mother, reading data for her to enter, helping to separate the printed carbon copies of bills that she had printed, and helping to stuff and lick envelopes. It gave us time to talk and chat about whatever. And we were just spending time together.

After my parents closed the store, Mom got a job in an accountant's office. She later moved to another office and then was sent to work for an individual company. The first major signs of the impending Alzheimer's came about while she was working at that job. I remember being in town to visit. I was supposed to drive back to New York that afternoon and evening, but a storm was coming. I would be safer staying in town. So, I decided to drive over to her office to surprise her that I was staying one extra night. When I walked into the office, she and her boss were having a heated conversation. Apparently she had forgotten to do several of her duties, including some invoicing and bill paying. And it wasn't the first time. She was convinced that she had done them all, but she hadn't. I quietly backed out of the office and went home. I gave my dad a heads-up that she was having difficulties and probably wouldn't be at her job much longer. He had already figured as much.

Sure enough, she was relieved of her duties soon after that incident. She was still determined that there was nothing wrong with her. She sent out many job applications and resumes to various companies that were seeking a bookkeeper. She even contemplated starting her own bookkeeping service for people. But none of these options came to fruition, because it was so obvious that she was slipping. It was painful to watch, because my mother was such a bright woman who could add huge sums in her head. Now she could barely balance her own checkbook or properly count change at the store.

It still took several years before we were able to convince the doctors that there was something wrong with my mother. She could still fake it in a controlled setting for a period of just a few minutes. But we all knew better.

Classic signs of Alzheimer's include inabilities to handle numbers. They have difficulty reading a clock and drawing hands on a clock face. Checks start to bounce, because it is such an abstract concept of money. They lose the ability to perform simple sums. If you start to notice these signs in your loved one, or even yourself, consider meeting with a doctor to note the changes and to seek early help.


  1. Another great post, Andrea. I hope this month's challenge brings you a bit of comfort as you work your way through the alphabet.

  2. Beautiful post, on a difficult subject. I know the pride bookkeepers take in their work of paying attention to the details - I'm a librarian by profession but am self-taught in bookkeeping. I can't even imagine what it must be like to lose that. Wishing you well with your A-Z journey.

  3. That must have been horribly difficult for your mother. Interesting post.

  4. Thanks for sharing these stories. The things to look for are helpful and you are showing us your mom's struggle with such love. ♥

  5. Reasonated very much with me since I saw my grandfather also suffer from Alzhiemer's

  6. What a difficult etime for your mother, and for you and your father too, as you saw her struggling over something that had been her life's work.

  7. I am so glad you have those treasured memories of your mom before her illness robed you of the person she was to you and your sister.

  8. Oh my gosh, that must have been so frustrating and confusing for her at the onset, not understanding that she actually had forgotten. I would imagine I would start to feel like there was some sort of conspiracy against me if no one believed what I believed to be true.

    Thank you for the warning signs. I will certainly keep them in mind..

    Alana @ writercize,
    With you at A to Z and GBE 2!

  9. One of the first signs of my mother's creeping dementia was that she stopped paying her bills. It didn't concern me that much at first to see the piles on her table, as she had always been kind of a procrastinator (I got that from her). She would say, "I know I need to pay these bills but I don't feel like doing it." I didn't realize then that she was hiding her inability to do it. My sister-in-law helped by writing out some checks for her, but that only stemmed the tide for a little while. While she was hospitalized from her first fall, I started going through the pile of bills and found that she had lost her house insurance through nonpayment.

    I can imagine what this must have been like for you to witness. I'm glad you are also writing about how wrenching these experiences are for loved ones and caregivers. Stay strong.