Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Hell of a Thing

I heard the carillon song of the Mister Softee truck on my mother's street one evening -- a cool, end of the summer evening; when the sun going down was just as bright and beautiful as it had been all day. And my heart broke. I knew, if she'd been there she would have been sitting outside on her front steps, soaking up the last moments of a perfect day. I knew, if she had been in her "right mind" as she was only a few short years ago, she would have been waiting, change in hand, to get her ice cream. I knew, if she was walking just a bit more slowly than usual or caught up in some reverie, the driver would pause a little longer, knowing she was a faithful patron. I knew, if I had heard the familiar melody, I would not have stopped to imagine her slowly enjoying every sweet, cold lick of her favorite treat; I would not have given the comfort I'd found in something so simple a second thought; I would never have considered this would not go on forever.

Mom has Alzheimer's Disease. Or some form of dementia. Something worse than what we used to casually call "senile." There is no diagnosis because we chose not to pursue one. Irresponsible, perhaps, but sometimes honoring the wishes of the people you love can be the bigger responsibility.

She can still read -- thank God! -- but can't really discuss what she's read. She can still tell time, but it means very little to her. She can sometimes identify relationships, but rarely remembers the names that go with them. She dresses herself, but has difficulty accurately determining appropriate clothing. One minute she is charming and expertly covering her malady; the next, she is childlike and insecure. She will still jump at the offer of ice cream, but she no longer calls me at all ungodly hours of the night to pick some up for her: Mom lives with us now.

The move has taken more out of her than I would have liked. I had hoped that within a week or two I would see more of the Mom that, though aged and sometimes tired, carried herself with the esteem and assurance that greeted me each time she opened her front door -- her front door. I had hoped I would see an angrier Mom who rebelled at having her whole house -- her whole life -- whittled down to a room in our house. I had hoped that Mom could, at least, enjoy whatever time she has left.

One day last week, she was sharper than I'd seen her in months -- maybe even years. She rattled off the names of folks she hardly knew and talked about things with understanding and complexity -- not at all like the woman-child who clutched an old box and a stuffed rabbit the day she moved in with us. The following day, was nothing like the one before: fear and confusion marked her face for much of the day, and by late afternoon, a weariness that comes with spending an entire day not knowing what is going on. Yesterday and today have been fairly good: the weather is nice enough she can sit outside; I think the fresh air does her good -- she certainly enjoys it, and I can take care of some things without having to sit by her side and reassure her repeatedly. But sooner or later, a day or moment will come that takes away any sense of security and ease she might be feeling today. She will cling to me, not necessarily because she knows who I am, but because of what I am -- her caretaker -- and because I am familiar. I imagine what it must be like for her: waking up in a strange place most days; trying to catch on, but always feeling like the joke is over your head; not knowing where you are supposed to be or what it is you are supposed to be doing; living someone else's life.

It's a hell of a thing.
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