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Rated: E · Essay · Experience · #1153512
This was published in Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul, July 2004 (or 2003).
Feeling Lucky

Alzheimer’s is smearing Mom’s brain like Vaseline on a mirror. Distinctions of time and place and events blur, and the number of “constants” dwindle: Sometimes, for example, I’m her daughter. More often I’m her friend, her sister, and sometimes even her mother. Dad’s vascular dementia, on the other hand, is like an old mirror of imperfect glass, its back chipping and peeling, leaving ever-growing black spots that reflect nothing; empty spaces that used to contain memories. Empty spaces into which words that could finish sentences, comprehend books, and even design and build a house that was accurate to plan within an eighth of an inch, have been sucked, like a Black Hole.
I’m always surprised when, while talking with Mom and Dad’s friends, I become emotional. -- No, that’s too soft a word; too easy: I cry. I try not to let them hear it in my voice, but I’m afraid they do. I love when they call, because it means they care, but even that caring is enough to cause a catch in my throat. They care! Aren’t Mom and Dad lucky?
I can’t tell them everything, these friends: Anne, Mary, Frank, Bernie, Betty, Elda. Most of these people have known Mom and Dad longer than I have, have shared experiences with them, been attendants at their wedding, served aboard ship with Dad in the Coast Guard in WWII, hall monitored with Mom in junior high school and planned to run away to Hollywood with her. All of these people have had their own tragedies – you don’t live to your eighties without tragedy – and they don’t need further evidence of their own mortality. I can’t tell them Mom and Dad don’t know them anymore, that they can’t bathe themselves, use the telephone, the television and sometimes not even the toilet. It won’t help them, won’t comfort them, for they can’t change things any more than I can. Besides, I don’t need to tell them the hard things. They know. And I cry because they know.
I never cry when I’m with Mom and Dad. When I’m with them, and they’re so glad to see me, and they smile and hug me and Dad talks like Donald Duck to make me laugh, even though he’s not quite sure who I am, the idea of crying never enters my heart. Instead I talk to them. I tell them about my day, the kids, something the dogs did, my sister and her latest boyfriend, my brother’s latest ski trip, my husband’s latest genealogical find, my sister-in-law’s latest foray into pottery. I tell jokes Dad used to tell, and he laughs, and I hug him when I catch the brief glimmer of self-recognition in his smiling blue eyes that have lost, for a time, their dullness. I use some of Mom’s words and expressions to describe a person or a thing, and she knows, somehow she remembers that the phrase means something, something personal and special that she never hears except when I visit. And she laughs. She laughs a lot more now than she ever used to, and I’m so happy when I make her laugh that I hug her again and call her my sweetie.
I sing. Mom always liked it when I sang, so I sing. She loves it, and I love doing it. Sometimes I sing as I’m coming on to the floor, and she hears me before she sees me. Any silly thing, even old nonsense songs she taught us as kids, or old standard songs Dad used to make up funny lyrics for: “…I had a dream, dear/you had one too/Yours was the best dream/because it was about me…” Then I dance into view and Mom calls out my name as if it’s the sweetest music she could make.
Dad dances with me, infrequently because of his bad hips and knees. He slides one foot around a little and keeps the other in one place, the same way he danced at my wedding a quarter of a century ago when his hips and knees worked just fine, and the same way he danced at their 50th anniversary party six years ago. While we dance, I tell him about both days as if they just happened, and I never once use the word “remember.”
Mom likes to polka. All I have to do is pop a Frankie Yankovich CD in the boom box and away we go, yee-hooing our way around the room like a pair of reckless whirling dervishes. She went to Slovenia with Frankie Yankovich, I remind her. Eight years ago. She and Dad. And they took my daughter. We dance, Mom and I, and I tell her about my daughter ringing the bell in the church on the island in Bled on that trip, about the caves at Postojna, and the way the hotel maids arranged Allyn’s blanket and teddy bear on her bed every night.
Dad hardly talks at all, but he loves to listen, or to joke, and he never misses a chance for a pun. Like Shakespeare, he always treated the pun as the very highest form of humor. And Mom still treats his puns with a roll of her eyes, a slight shake of her head and her inimitable half-smile, half-grimace.
Mom talks and talks, sprinkling her always impressive vocabulary, every word used properly, into improbable monologues to loved ones long gone. I go with her as if on a guided tour of Eden, and I’m whoever, wherever, whenever she needs me to be.
They never want me to leave but I have to go. We hug and we kiss and we exchange “I love you’s” and “See you tomorrow’s.” They walk me to the elevator and we blow kisses and say goodbyes long after the door closes.
I never cry when I’m with them, or when I leave them. I’m happy. I had today. I had the chance to make them smile, and I did. I had the chance to hug them, and I did. I had the chance to be with them knowing that we might not have tomorrow, but we had yesterday, and we had today, and that’s enough.
Aren’t I lucky?
© Copyright 2006 M.DeFarge (m.defarge at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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