Those who labor in the salt mines of disease (those living with illness as well as those who are dealing with someone who lives with illness) can tell long and lurid tales of the proverbial dark night of the soul, yet one thing I’ve noticed is that many of them also possess a wickedly sharp wit and a well-honed sense of black humor.
Some folks find such armament in poor taste. Some think one ought to dwell on the horrors life can bestow, or wallow in whatever sty Fate has tossed you. I disagree…and embrace a philosophy expounded by my very great friend Wendy Lightner. “You can wade in self-pity,” she once told me. “But don’t wallow.” (I love her style.) Often gallows humor is the only thing that shines a light on the world and makes it worthwhile to open your eyes the next morning.
With that in mind, these two extremely short tales of life with my mother’s Alzheimer’s:
1) I was putting Mom to bed a couple of weeks ago, getting her settled in with her book and her glass of water, when she looked at me and said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for Darrell to come visit right now.” The Darrell she speaks of is my Uncle Darrell, one of her older brothers and dead these sixteen years (give or take).
I nodded and replied, “That’s okay. I don’t think he’s planning on visiting.”
Her worry persisted. “I’m afraid he’s just going to show up. He does that.”
I pursed my lips to hide a smile. “Mom, I think I can safely guarantee you that Uncle Darrell isn’t going to just show up here.”
She looked at me, studying my face, then slumped back against the pillows. “Oh, God,” she said. “Is he dead again?”
2) My sister Colby, who has been known to imbibe in an alcoholic drink or three from time to time, has gotten Mom into the habit of a glass of white wine before bed. For most of the time I’ve known her, my mother has been virtually a teetotaler. Her alcohol indulgence consisted of an occasional Miller High Life in the summer, and a single small glass of asti spumonti at Thanksgiving. (Which usually put her over the moon.) Now she swigs it down with the best of them and accuses us of being miserly if we don’t fill her glass to the brim.
At any rate, the other night was my niece Michelle’s turn to babysit Mom. As bed time approached, she said, “Grandma, I’m going to have a beer. Would you like a glass of wine?”
“Yes,” Mom replied. “But don’t give me any of that stuff in the blue bottle. I had a glass of that last night and it about knocked me on my ass.”
“What blue bottle?” Michelle asked, knowing full well that the wine is in the refrigerator in a clear bottle.
“That stuff on the counter,” Mom said.
Michelle went to have a look…and came back into the living room laughing. “Grandma, that’s vodka!” Apparently, my darling mum had poured herself a generous three inches of vodka and downed it in the course of the evening. How she managed is a mystery. Even if her taste buds aren’t what they once were, you’d think the heat of the drink as it went down her throat would have clued her to the fact that it wasn’t what she usually drank before bed time. So now the vodka is tucked away in the safe in my father’s old room, the wine is in clear view, and we’re extra careful about what we leave on the counters.