Guideposts Article: Kate Mulgrew’s Toughest Role: Alzheimer’s Caregiver

The Star Trek: Voyager actress spent nine years caring for her beloved mother as she dealt with the debilitating disease.

by Kate Mulgrew

“Kitten,” my mother said to me one day, “you should be my mother.”

I was all of 14 years old, the oldest girl in a family of eight kids. I had dreams of becoming an actor and was painting a rhapsodic picture of my future in the theater when Mother offered her outlandish suggestion. “You’re strong, capable, sturdy,” she said. “You would be a great mother.”

We both laughed at the absurdity of it, the sheer eccentricity, but she went on to say how much she missed having a mother. Hers had died when she was very young. “You can’t get over it,” she said. “It’s a gap you never fill.”

She herself was a wonderful mother, though not much of a housekeeper—the laundry proliferated on top of the washing machine, there was never enough toilet paper or soap, and she hardly looked at what she was cleaning. But she was full of laughter and creativity.

An artist at heart, she converted a bedroom in our rambling house on the outskirts of Dubuque, Iowa, into a studio. The bookshelves were filled with biographies of great painters and plenty of opera tapes: Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, Berlioz. The room smelled of varnish, acrylics and coffee. On top of an old trunk were Mason jars filled with brushes, tubes of oil paints, boxes of pastels. On the walls were quotes written in Mother’s loopy script. “Glory be to God for dappled things,” said one, a line from Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Mother naturally chose him for inspiration—it suited her fascination with the mystical. She’d go on retreats and have deep conversations with the abbess, Mother Columba, looking for answers. She prayed when times were hard, as they often were, and disappeared into her studio. She could be witty and playful, but then a serious or lost expression would appear on her face, as if she were a million miles away…

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