Mom was in the yard the other day, watching me chuck a tennis ball for my dog Holly to chase. Mom said, “It’s amazing how well she does with only one eye.” (Holly was blinded in her left eye when she was a year old.)
I said, “Well, Helen Keller did well with less than that.”
Mom sort of smiled and half-nodded, but I saw it in her face – that somewhat wooden, deer-in-the-headlights expression she gets when she hasn’t a clue what I’m talking about, but thinks she should. “Do you know who Helen Keller was?” I asked.
So I gave her a brief run-down on Ms. Keller, the impact of Annie Sullivan in her life, and how she went on to do many wonderful things.
Mom was amazed. “Wow. I never knew any of that.”
Which, of course, is the gut-punch at the end of most interactions with Mom, because she did know. In fact, if memory serves (and who the hell knows that anymore?), she’s the one who first told me about Helen Keller.
This is life with Alzheimer’s. Telling and retelling. Teaching and re-teaching. The awareness that your loved one ought to know what you’re talking about, and the understanding that they don’t and probably won’t ever again. (Until next week, of course, when they suddenly remember, and all bets are off.)
“I don’t remember much anymore,” Mom says (frequently) with sadness. Snippets here and there. Old, old memories from her childhood on the farm in Maine, but not much else really. Flotsam washes up, she takes note for the time her brain will allow, and then it’s gone again. That analogy works – Alzheimer’s is like the ocean coming in after a busy day at the beach, washing away all those sandcastles, smoothing the rough bits, leaving the sand unbroken, featureless.
Our shared experiences of the past are gone. A few of the new memories we’ve made (the Renaissance Faire, grooming horses) seem to stick, but for how long? I watch her develop coping mechanisms – “I’m too tired, you decide for me” when given a choice of clothing to wear or food to eat. Increasingly, names are lost in paging through the photo album. She still remembers Dad, my niece Michelle, and (usually) my sisters, but everyone else is fading. At some point, they’ll be gone. She won’t know they’re gone. All she’ll know is what’s in front of her, for the brief moment it’s in front of her, and each day’s sameness will be new.
Is that a blessing or a curse?