Sunday, May 9, 2010
Watching my mother inexorably displaced by Alzheimer's disease, layer by layer of her essence peeled away, regressing, confusing, misunderstanding, becoming childlike and then less, is a shared painful slow death.
Once bright and intelligent, a lover of word play and shaggy dog stories, counsellor to my dad in his political career, writer of speeches, member of boards, she's become, now, mostly none of that. Rarely a flash of a joke appears, so randomly that it's hard to know if it was intended. As her short-term memory disappeared, for a time there was still most of the rest; I could ignore the fact that she never remembered our visits because while we were there, it was clear it gave her pleasure. "In the moment" took on its literal meaning. I could make her laugh, sometimes to tears, and we could enjoy recalling events and people of the past. She loved looking at pictures. If we ran out of things to talk about, we could just start over, and it was all new.
Now, though, it mostly confuses her. And although she still recognizes us -- and fawns child-like affection on my wife -- she fails to understand most of what we're saying, and that upsets her. Recently, it brought her to tears, and for the first time I thought our presence was not only not pleasurable, but harmful.
She has stuffed animals on the sill. If you pick them up and wiggle their limbs, she'll talk to them like a little child.
It's about a two-hundred-thirty mile drive, and we make it about once a month, staying for two or three days. The place in which she dwells (hard to call it living) is as good as it gets, I'd guess. Caring and cheerful staff, all seeming to know her well. If "knowing" and "her" and "well" have any meaning. I call her every weekend because we've hired a companion for those days, and she'll pick up the phone for her, and explain what to do. Of late, Mom's response is unpredictable. Sometimes she barely gets it, will stop talking, let the phone drift, and after calling "Mom... mom... can you hear me ... are you there..." I'll just hang up the phone. The companion, often, leaves the room once she'd gotten Mom talking, so there's nothing else to do.
When we do talk, it's about the weather, birds, the color of my lawn. And then, the weather, birds, the color of my lawn. If she forms more than a handful of words, they usually take her someplace where she can no longer follow. I'll search for a way back for her, but if I find one that makes any sense she's lost the path anyway, and we'll get back to the weather.
She had chest pain the other day, they tell me. Took three nitros before it went away, and they almost took her to the ER. Why?