Thursday, March 15, 2012

Learning from Alzheimer's

I was back at my favorite UPS store yesterday, mailing a couple of packages. Only one of them was addressed to Thyrza, but never fear, the month's still young.  Since she left, I should have  frequent-mailer miles at that place or something.  And the boxes have come flying this direction as well. This afternoon the mail woman pulled all the way up into our driveway because the two boxes were so heavy she didn't want to risk a back injury carrying them very far.  Later, Thyrza's daughter (on the phone about some other ongoing business!) told me those boxes are crammed with old papers probably not worth keeping but her mother wouldn't hear of throwing out. Yep, sounds about right, Sounds about like how we got ourselves into this mess of a house crammed like those boxes.

Oh wait, do I sound a little petulant?

Anyway, back to the UPS store, and the clerk who helped me. She recognized Thyrza's name from last week or the week before. Odd how someone might remember a name like Thyrza.  And you want to know what's really odd? She had three sisters, and their names were Charlotte, Elizabeth and Jane.  Really. I've always wondered about how she won that name lottery.

Anyway. This week I was mailing off Grampie's cell phone so Thyrza can use it. Grampie can't remember how it works any more, and if she has it, we can call her late at night without bothering anyone else in that four-generation household. So, because I was in a rather chatty mood (or prolific, as the clerk called it, but incorrectly) I answered the clerk's questions about Alzheimer's--about what I've seen that are similar in our parents' cases, and what are completely different. There's a certain vacant look in their faces that I thought was just how my mother looked until I saw Grampie with exactly the same expression in his eyes and mouth. Grampie doesn't look one bit like my mother so it has now become what I call Alzheimer's face.  The blankness that comes and goes with deadened eyes and a slackness around the mouth. It's hard to explain and impossible to imitate but once you see it you'll know it.

But the differences: Grampie hasn't lost his words, and that's a HUGE difference. Losing her ability to communicate meant Mom lost relationship much earlier than she lost the ability to recognize people. This is a very sad thing. But Grampie's coherent speech doesn't mean he's necessarily easier to converse with. The sharp relief in which it paints his memory loss is sometimes painful. "Where's Thyrza?" He'll ask--five times in a ten minute period. And that's EVERY SINGLE DAY. He absolutely doesn't remember that she's moved. And asks her while he's talking to her--over and over--where she is.  And he asks where he is. And thinks it's morning when it's night or wants to go swimming or go for a drive or walk the plank or any old out of the blue idea you can dream up. When Thyrza asks what he's been doing all day, he's liable to tell her he's been in meetings or off shopping for suits or boating...a whole lot of boating This whole boat thing--you can't imagine how fixated he is on the dang boat. Being on a boat. Or getting on a boat--or off the boat, or something. This morning they had a long conversation about talking to their investment man and Thyrza took careful notes of every single word Grampie said, as if he had a clue in the clear blue sky what he was talking about or that he'd remember it two minutes later. I was shaking my head silently the whole time but his voice sounded just so exactly like himself, she just can't get it through hers that he's no longer really there. No matter what how confused he is every other second.

Then this clerk (to whom I really wasn't this VERBOSE--which was the word she was looking for!) asked if I was scared to death that I'd be like my parents since they both got Alzheimer's.  'First of all,' I told her, 'Only one was my parent, the other's my father-in-law, so it's really our children' who need to be worried. If Beve gets it like his dad, and I get it like my mom, our kids are the ones who need to worry.'

The better, more honest answer to that question is that all this upfront and personal experience with this dreadful disease has made me both more and less worried about having it myself. The more is self-evident, of course. No one who has seen dementia can have anything but dread at the idea of having one's dread pulled from then one particle at a time. I admit that.

But the less is for two reasons. For one thing, we're so busy living with it now that we don't really have time to think about it for ourselves, though Beve thinks he really will get it. Even now, he actually thinks that--his memory isn't great on the best of days, so he thinks it's only a matter of time. And maybe he's right. Maybe there's a correlation. And if that's the case, I'll live with that, too. And I'll love him to the end of himself and beyond. I know I will because I've done it twice with people I loved a whole lot less than I love him. But maybe there's no correlation at all.

Maybe he can't predict. Maybe only God is in charge of what ends our lives. Maybe we do better to leave the ending of our days to Him and not trouble ourselves with whether that's in an instant or drawn out like a stretched-to-breaking rubberband. Maybe one day's troubles really is enough for that day. This is the second thing, you see: that I choose to take Jesus at His word when He says to seek first His Kingdom.  And that all the hairs on my head are counted. Even all the cells in my brain. And as I've watched two people disappear to Alzheimer's, I've realized that even when they stop knowing Him, He knows them. Even when they don't know where they are, He does. When they aren't even sure they're loved, we love them, and that's enough. More than enough is that He loves them.  And if that should be what He has for me, okay then.  Let me live to the end of my days with grace, no matter what that end is.

That's what I told that woman.  And yes, I am prolific here...but I've lived the right to be so.

1 comment:

Elle said...

Talking about name lotteries... my theatre leader knew brothers whose names were Matthew, Mark, Luke and Bob. Just saying.