by alz heimer
Chronicling my Aunt Sarah's life with Alzheimer's. (1st Place Winner in a WDC contest.)
|If you haven't read it, please go to the first segment:
"I -- Someday, She'll Forget Who I Am"
(First Place Winner: WDC Angel Army's Adopt-A-Newbie Contest Central)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
WATCHING TIME GO BY
(First Place Winner: WDC Angel Army's Adopt-A-Newbie Contest Central)
By Martina McVee
** Images For Use By Upgraded+ Only **
It was not a good day for Aunt Sarah.
I was still asleep when she walked down to the grocery store early this morning, wearing only her silk pajamas and house slippers. She picked up a few breakfast items, and tried to leave without paying. She got into a nasty argument with the new salesclerk till the kindly gentleman owner came out and intervened. After recognizing her, the owner who knew us well immediately called to advise me of the situation. I rushed to the store, paid for the groceries, and expressed my gratitude to the owner who promised to educate his employees about Aunt Sarah’s condition. During the drive back to the condo, Aunt Sarah was still incensed. “Do I look like a thief to you?” she kept asking. “I will never shop at that store again …never! That stupid boy! I want him fired!”
As soon as we got home and she got seated in front of the television with a wool blanket wrapped around her, she seemed to have forgotten all about the incident and watched CNN Headline News. During her pre-Alzheimer’s days, she was a political and news junkie who used to watch only the Fox News Network. She believed Fox provided the most fair and balanced news, as opposed to CNN’s and the mainstream media’s liberal and biased news reporting. She would schedule her treadmill runs during her favorite news talk radio programs so she could listen to conservative political commentators like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck. Since Alzheimer’s affected her mind, she no longer cared which network she watched, or radio program she listened to; in fact, she began to watch less and less of the news, and more and more of the lighthearted and frivolous shows. I never thought I would see the day when she would watch Jerry Springer with utmost fascination and merriment.
I cooked the sausages, fried a few eggs, and made Aunt Jemima pancakes from the box that she had just bought this morning. She never used to eat sausage or bacon, and definitely never cooked anything from a mix before, not like me. I preferred convenience foods …the tastier, the better, regardless of its trans fat content. Everyday I vowed to reform and start eating better nutritionally; everyday I failed. After setting the table, I called her to eat. “Breakfast is ready, Aunt Sarah,” I said across the room where the kitchen and the living room were all connected in one long space. She did not respond. “Come and eat while it’s still hot.”
“I’m not hungry,” she said, seeming agitated at what she was watching – an interview with Hilary Clinton. I could hear her mumble something incoherently and wondered if she had changed her unfavorable views of the former First Lady of the United States.
I ate breakfast alone. I saved her portion in the refrigerator, which I doubted she would ever eat.
Later in the afternoon, I heard the washer and dryer running while in the bathroom cleaning off Aunt Sarah's hairs from the sink and the mirror. I wondered if her medical condition was causing her beautiful hair to fall out. There was a time when she would react horribly if she saw a single strand of hair in the sink or the floor. Her bountiful and shiny hair was her crowning glory, as far as she was concerned, and she cared for it like a diamond-studded tiara. I stepped out of the bathroom and into the laundry room to check on the machines. Not surprisingly, both were empty, and the two basket hampers on the floor were full of her dirty laundry. I was not going to tell Aunt Sarah what happened, but she caught me putting her clothes in the washer. “What are you doing?” she barked at me with her eyes narrowed dangerously to a slit. “Haven’t I told you that I don’t want anybody else doing my laundry? Don’t you think I am capable of doing mundane chores like that?”
Before I could respond, the phone rang, and I secretly thanked the caller. I rushed to the kitchen and retrieved the wall phone. “This is not a good time,” I whispered as soon as the caller ID identified Mom’s phone number. “She was running the washer and dryer empty again, and she yelled at me for doing her laundry.”
"Just give the phone to her," she insisted.
“Who is it?” Aunt Sarah roared irritably from the laundry room. She met me in the kitchen.
I reluctantly handed her the phone. “It’s Mom. She wants to talk to you.”
“What does she want now?” she growled. “If she’s going to ask me again to move in with her, she’s wasting her time. I’ve told her many times before …I’m staying in Vail, and that’s final!”
I could not hear Mom, but Aunt Sarah’s argument was clearly responsive of Mom’s repeated request. “Once and for all, I am not moving in with you. I am not an invalid. I can take care of myself. Goodbye!” With a look of formidable anger Aunt Sarah slammed the receiver on its cradle. “I wish people would just leave me alone!”
Accustomed now to Aunt Sarah’s explosive fits of temper, I learned that such anger fizzled out quickly. And if she still remembered what had just happened, she would feel remorseful and apologize to whomever she had just offended.
Grabbing her wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses from the kitchen counter, she made her way out to the deck and dropped her statuesque figure onto the lounge chair. She picked up her favorite book—Jane Eyre--from the bamboo magazine rack on the floor beside the chair. She must have read the novel a hundred times in her life, and even memorized some of her favorite lines; but lately she occasionally forgot the name Charlotte Bronte. She found the dog-eared page and opened the book, only to set it on her lap and gaze absently at the view of the majestic snow-capped mountains of Vail. She would stay there immersed in the splendorous scene for hours.
I waited a few minutes before I stepped out onto the deck with a tube of sunscreen in one hand and a cotton blanket in the other. By this time, Aunt Sarah had regained her composure and greeted me with a sweet smile. How I missed that smile. “Thank you, Ariana,” she said softly. I nodded, signifying everything was all right; to forget what happened earlier, and that she should simply relax and enjoy the scenery. I bent over her and started applying crème all over her body with gentle strokes. Her skin was milky white, creamy, and silkier than mine, and she was almost twice my age. “I look so pale,” she protested. “No matter how much time I spend out here in the sun, I never get a tan. Maybe I should stop using sunscreen.”
“And get skin cancer?” I snapped, realizing instantly the stupidity of my joke; biting my lower lip was too late.
Aunt Sarah’s eyes sparkled with grim delight. “Wouldn’t that be great,” she exclaimed. “Death would be far quicker than this disease that’s slowly eating away at my brain.” Her voice softened as she gazed at the horror that washed over my face. She leaned forward and cupped my face between her cold hands. “I’m sorry, my dear,” she said after kissing me on the forehead. “Sometimes I forget that this is hard on you, too.” Her emerald eyes bore the original light I had grown to envy untill Alzheimer’s caused them to fade into a dull and lifeless hue of green. Those famous eyes that used to absorb everything and miss nothing; they expressed wordless arguments, and dared any opponent to enter the window to her eyes and take a peek at the distant recesses of her mind to see what lurked there.
Since the incident at the Vail Police Department months ago when she got lost and could not find her way home, the gossips spread quickly about her Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to the Alzheimer’s bracelet she was wearing, the cops were able to trace the family. Wasting no time, they dialed the number on the bracelet and talked to Mom. Mark, Aunt Sarah’s fiancé who came from Washington, D.C. looking for Aunt Sarah, was there and accompanied the family to Vail to fetch Aunt Sarah and bring her back to Denver. Mark begged her to return to D.C. with him, but she vehemently refused all offers and remained in Vail.
Her friends in Denver and Vail visited her often in the beginning; visits that slowed down because she began to suspect the insincerity of their motives. She was a curiosity to some people who had never known of anybody with Alzheimer’s. They were surprised to hear that someone so young could be diagnosed with it. One time a new friend in Vail, who turned out to be a journalist, invited her to a birthday celebration, but there was no party. Unbeknownst to Aunt Sarah, the friend had an ulterior motive for inviting her over.
She was brimming with joy when I picked her up. I wished all her days were like that, the way they used to be. “She is so wonderful," she said about the friend. "And what a marvelous feast she prepared just for the two of us. We talked for hours like teenagers. We shared secrets with each other; I told her things I never told anyone. I think I love this woman, and I hope she could be my friend for a long time.”
That weekend, the front page of the health section of the Sunday paper contained an extensive story on Alzheimer’s disease. And there it was, in vivid color, Aunt Sarah’s picture, with a caption that read: She Could Not Find Her Way Home
Until that moment, I never realized Aunt Sarah’s total capacity for anger. Her privacy had been invaded; her fragile ego demolished; her trust in people challenged. She wrote scathing letters to the publisher and demanded the termination of the reporter. She solicited the moral and legal assistance of an Alzheimer’s organization who recommended a court action against the newspaper and the reporter. She succeeded in getting the reporter fired, but the whole experience took an emotional toll on her. Eventually, she forgot about the whole episode, which sometimes I wondered if she deliberately tried to forget because it hurt too much to remember. She ended up not suing the publishing company who printed an apology on page nine of the Wednesday edition of the newspaper. The story grabbed the interest of the media. TV news correspondents frequently called for an interview, which Aunt Sarah adamantly rejected. And if I ever failed to screen the calls and let one sneak up on me and give the phone to Aunt Sarah, I would suffer her wrath.
I surprised myself with the amount of patience I had with Aunt Sarah. I had never been yelled at by my parents the way Aunt Sarah had done, but I knew it wasn’t her who was yelling at me; it was the disease. She had no control of it; I had to remind myself of this every time she darted those angry eyes at me. I also prayed a lot …for me, and for her.
Aunt Sarah levered herself out of the long chair, grabbed the blanket, and wrapped it around her as she paced back and forth. I wondered what she was thinking now.
“I think it’s time I considered a professional caregiver,” she said without looking at me.
Her words stunned me. “Why, Aunt Sarah? Haven’t I done a good job caring for you?” My voice was shaking.
She turned to look at me. Her eyes bore sadness. “More than a good job, my dear. I know I will never find someone who could give me the same care that you’ve given me. But I can’t bear the way I treat you sometimes. It’s deplorable. I love you too much to hurt you like that.”
“But I understand that you don’t mean to hurt me, Aunt Sarah. You do not have control over this disease that make you act that way.”
“You are such a wonderful girl. You should be establishing a career now instead of working for me. You are a very beautiful girl who should be going out on dates and having a romantic relationship. You should be having fun with your friends; instead, you sacrifice all these things and live with me, swallowing all the nasty shit I throw at you.”
“There’s plenty of time for friends and romance, Aunt Sarah. At this point in my life, all I want is to be here for you, and to help you manage your health and your life in the best possible way that you and I can.”
Retrieving a cigarette from the ashtray on the side table, she proceeded to light it with a match. She drew hard on the cigarette, and I watched her instantaneously convulse in a fit of coughing. When she calmed down I handed her a glass of water. This happened almost every day. “I don’t smoke, do I?” she asked.
“No, you don’t.”
“Then why the hell do I have cigarettes here?”
“Because you think you smoke.”
“Well, throw them away. They’re disgusting.”
“I will.” I knew she would look for them tomorrow and demand to have them back. “For now, we have to finish this caregiver discussion. If you think you’re sparing me the heartaches of your temper and insults, you’re wrong. You will be hurting my feelings more if you replaced me with someone who doesn’t even know you, and cannot love you the way I do.”
I thought I saw her eyes brim with tears before she looked away from me. She straightened, squared her shoulders that caused the blanket to drop on the deck floor, exposing her attractive long legs. The breeze caused the white cotton fabric of her dress to flatten against her body as she slowly walked a few steps away facing the mountains. She always looked forward to this time of day when the sun started to descend behind the mountains and the sky began to change colors.
When she turned to face me again, her figure was spectrally glowing from behind by the setting sun. It was mesmerizing. She looked like an angel approaching me. But her face depicted nothing angelic about it. She looked stern, harsh and unwavering. “Listen to me,” she demanded. “My decision is final. Tomorrow, I want you to contact the caregiver agency to review their records and start sending pre-screened and qualified applicants over for interview. I cannot stand mediocrity. I want someone who is intelligent enough to carry a conversation with me; who can manage my administrative needs; who knows the area well and can drive anywhere …you understand how important that is for me.”
She was very decisive and steadfast. It was one of those moments when I knew there was nothing else I could say to make her change her mind. It broke my heart to think that someone else would soon be taking my place--her favorite niece who would do anything to provide the best care possible for her. Defeated in the battle of reasoning, I cried as I gave in and nodded in agreement.
This time, Aunt Sarah allowed me to see her tears fall before turning away again. Quietly facing the setting orb, she would remain standing there, her hands on the wooden railing … watching time elapse in slow motion.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End~ ~ ~ ~ ~