This post was originally written in April 2011 when my mother was still alive and still at home.
I asked my mother one day, “Mom, do you know what Alzheimer’s is?”
She knew. “It’s a condition where people can’t think sensibly,” she responded.
It was a good answer. Alzheimer’s is not a condition where someone simply doesn’t think sensibly. They can’t. And yet, sometimes, they can. Like being able to answer that question with a pretty concise response shows sensible thinking.
Yesterday my mother handed me a sheet of address labels with her name and address printed on them.
“These are for you,” she said.
“I can’t use these, Mom,” I told her. “They have your name and address on them.” I tried handing them back to her, but she pushed them over to me again.
“That way you won’t forget me,” she replied.
I felt a little ache in my heart at those words. “Mom, I won’t forget you,” I reassured. “Will you forget me?” I asked it, even though I already knew the answer.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’ll never forget you.”
But moments later, she forgot that she had even given me the address labels and took them back to her pile of things. She removed one and stuck at the bottom of a note she had written herself about dinner with a friend — a dinner that had taken place months or years ago. She had forgotten. But she stuck the address label on the bottom of the note.
“This will help me remember,” she said. Oh, if only it were that easy.
Alzheimer’s is a condition where people can’t think sensibly. The varying pieces of information that are coming at us and constantly being filtered in our mind are no longer being filtered correctly. It’s impossible for a person with dementia to make sense of it all.
One day we were going through some clutter and my father picked up a kitschy dog made out of golf balls. “We could probably get rid of this,” he said.
“Are you going to get rid of me?” my mother asked. With the filters missing, that was what she heard.
“You’re too valuable,” he told her. “We’re not going to get rid of you.” It was the perfect response.
So many people have shown kindness to my mother. Total strangers, long-time friends and family members have all pitched in to keep her safe and to make life easier for my father. I know my father appreciates it, but I often wonder if my mother is even aware.
Yesterday, she answered that unasked question. Are you aware of all the things people do for you?
She was looking for my brother. “He’s up at his house, Mom, right next door,” I told her.
“That’s right,” she said. “He has been so nice. Every night he brings dinner right down to us so I don’t have to fix anything.”
Yes, he does. And I’m so glad you recognize that. Even if you don’t always recognize me. I know it’s because you can’t think sensibly.
7 thoughts on “Four Questions”
It is difficult to see aging parents become injured, mentally or physically. Writing these moments you’ve captured, are so sad, happy and beautiful.
I remember similar times with my mother and it is bittersweet to read your rememberences.
So much about dementia is bittersweet — even more so when the person is gone.
The address labels reminds me of my Dad, and the pile of cards I found after his death. He would stick the address label in the middle of the envelope, as if he was sending it to himself. His relative’s address would only be half-completed.
And those heartbreaking questions that escape the lips of those with dementia from time to time … as much as it hurts, those are precious moments.
It’s funny about address labels — they’re supposed to simplify the process, but for someone with dementia it seems like they muddy it even more. Your father knew it had something to do with sending letters and my mother knew they had something to do with identity, but neither one could make the complete connection.
And, yes, I’ve been very thankful that I wrote out so many of the stories with my mother. The memories are sweet.
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