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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Alzheimer's is a Nasty Bitch

This is not that kind of blog. It is not a chronological history or our personal tragedies. But I wrote this account, as I do from time to time and I haven't written much lately and haven't posted in an entirely long time. So here it is. And the title? Sorry about that. But it is honest and I have no other way to summarize this post. 

I unwrap my mother’s Christmas gift. She can’t unwrap it, won’t unwrap it.  Can’t, won’t- I can’t decide which it is. I write her name on the pillow made to support back sleepers 5 different times with a cheap gel pen. I left the sharpie in the truck and I’m much too lazy to traverse the parking lot to get it.  I put my mother’s Christmas gift into a pillow case I grabbed from my linen closet. I notice a small brown stain on the pillow case and mutter a curse under my breath. My husband and I discuss very ineloquently whether to put the nursing home issued flat pillow in Mom’s closet or leave in on the bed.  We are leaving. I could not convince my mother to leave the common area to come to her room to open her gift or walk the halls. She ate the cookies I brought though. She ate them with a ferocious hunger that I can only guess comes as her last vestige of pleasure, food. I can understand that. 

I hear the faint sound of my mother’s voice in the hall way.  The words are slow and drawn out and there is a shaky and weak vibrato to them as she says, “Put thaaaaat there laaaaaaa-ter.” It is the first time I've heard my mother speak in months. But they are really the only words she has uttered in the past year or two. Put. That. There. Later. Four words have marked every conversation with my mom since the day we left her on a locked ward.  Earlier today as I was rubbing lotion into her hands her respirations quickened and her mouth curled into what I like to imagine was a small smile. Something I have not seen in so long.  She showed the same reaction as I showed her old pictures of her and her babies, and one of her and her twin sister. I turned to Mark, hoping he would also conclude the reaction was some kind of recognition. “Looks like some kind of increased anxiety,” he says. I try to hide my disappointment.

The medication has given her this tick. But it is much worse than a tick and it bothers me. Her jaw moves. She chews on her own teeth, grinds them away.  The muscles in her face are tense and hard and her neglected teeth break away under the pressure. When I first sat down next to her for this holiday visit, I am ashamed, of the thought that slipped through my mind as her jaw moved back and forth, “Please, Lord, let her die soon.  Take her from this miserable existence.”  The thought causes me guilt and shame, but it is not the first time or the last time such a thought will creep into my mind.

Instead of putting on my coat to leave, I head to the hall to see what has convinced my mother to speak. She is at the locked doors. Does she want out? Would she leave? I desperately want to take her from here, bring her home, make her a nice bed in a welcoming place, and feed her all the cookies she desires. But she turns to walk and I join her. I talk to her about getting some exercise in. She used to exercise all the time. She used to nag me to take her to exercise. And sometimes I really hated taking her to the gym and these days I wish she was more active, wish I could walk with her more.  After she was moved here, she walked up and down the hall endless times for an hour or so. These days she walks up and down the hall once or twice on days I can only deem as good. I walk with her. I touch her shoulder. I hold her hand. I am always looking for ways to touch her. I might lose my words, but my touch can speak my love, right? I try. I try to tell her.  How much I miss her, how much I need her.  How much this month has hurt me, has tested me, and how much I wanted to cry on her shoulder, to call her every day and lay bare my struggles and seek her advice. There is no one in the world who is like the woman that my mother was before Alzheimer’s ripped her from me. And there is no one in the world who could have comforted me this last month like she could. I try to tell her. I always tell her the stupid shit that goes on in my boring life, but this time I couldn't.  Because with every word I can feel the tears choking me.  We are in the hall. I make it a point not to cry outside of the walls of my mother’s room. Usually no one finds me in there. The only people who have caught me crying in the nursing home are my husband and my father- and I tried to prevent that, but I cry every time I come here. Once a week, twice a month, regardless how often I come, I cry. Many think it makes me weak. I am considered the weakest one by most of them. My husband, he thinks it makes me strong. To feel my feelings, as they come, and not let them come out sideways towards someone I love. But to weep as the grief comes over me. Which can be often, or uncommon, whatever your definition may be. But, here, in the hall, I stop it. I will not cry. So I stop talking. I stop telling. I try to show Mom the snow out the window. I lay my head on her shoulder as she moves away. I miss her so much. But I will not cry in the hall, in front of nurses who won’t tell me their names, in front of the residents who I have come to know and love and grieve, as if I have always known them. I walk with her back to her room.

She goes the bathroom when we get back. Mark chuckles because she does not turn the bathroom light on. When she comes out she heads to her bed, as we expect her to these days. I noticed her bottom is wet and I try not to cringe. She is the strongest woman I know. And she has peed her pants. I stroke her head a while; give her feet a quick rub. Look into her blank eyes. Her tiny pupils stare past me in a haze of anti-psychotic control.  I do not want her controlled.  I want to let her loose.  I would embrace her senility. I am so jealous of the loved ones who come and hear their mothers, wives, and grandmothers ramble on about jibberish they can’t understand. I would not care if Mom was hallucinating and ranting about things I could not see. I would not care if she spoke of her days growing up on the farm, of the clothes she made, of the matching prom dresses her and Deb wore. I would not care if she spoke of farming and things I couldn't understand. I would not care if she spoke of men I did not know or if she spoke of the early days of her courtship with my father. I would not care. I just want her to speak. I just want to connect.

And like every other time I see her. I ask her. I beg her. I ask if she could please come back to me. If she would be there the next time I see her. If she would come back and speak to me like she used to. In my plea I tell her I don’t care if it is only 5 minutes. I miss her and I would take 5 minutes of her, over the rest of my life with a blank stare and a memory. I ask her to find her way out and to be with me for a little while. And amidst my pleas, the tears come. I press my lips to her forehead, to her cheek, I bury my face in the nook of her shoulder. I tell her I love her and I miss her and I ask her to come back.  As I stand up I ask my husband to grab me some tissues as I breathe out an apology for losing it once again.

I give her once last hug and we leave. As we approach the exit I realize I am very thirsty and that I left my bottle of juice on her nightstand. Momentarily we discuss going back for it. But I've said goodbye today. I've made my plea.  I've shed my tears. For now.  And I can’t go back. Not until next week.