Monday, May 20, 2013

Death by degrees

There's a post in my brain, shaking itself at me like the rattles on a rattlesnake, but every time I put my hands to the keys, I spend more time punching the delete button than composing the post. So eventually I just throw up my hands and back away. This has happened too many times to count in the last week, too many. And so, though I still really think it's in me to write--it must be, I can't stop thinking about it--apparently, this isn't the time. I just can't write my way in. And any writer knows how essential this 'way in' is. There has to be a jumping off point. For now, though, it'll be filed under 'post possibilities' in my overactive brain until that 'ah-ha!' moment that makes it all work.

Meanwhile, back in the real world where I live, Grampie's wife is visiting with her daughter and son-in-law. It's their twilight song of a trip west. Thyrza is 94 1/2 years old now and equally frail in mind and body. But she was determined enough that her daughter thought they should do it. Grampie has entered the last stages of Alzheimer's now. He no longer processes what is being said to him all the time, no longer recognizes even those he knows the very best. One day last week when Beve and I were visiting, he leaned over to me, pointed at Beve, and said, "He looks a lot like [my son] Steve."
I smiled at him. "That's because he IS Steve, Grampie."
He frowned his sideways frown, looked hard at Beve, then the sunshine broke. "Steve!"

The first time they saw Grampie, they woke him from a nap, and he knew each of them. Knew them so well that Thyrza told me later that night that she was sure we'd been exaggerating how bad he is.
The next day, however, he not only didn't know any of them, he didn't even want to talk to them, and kept wheeling himself away. We've seen him do this a time or two dozen. I saw my mother do it as well. It's all part of the process.

So it's been a trip of ups and downs. Three more days. Then Thyrza gets on a plane back to Maryland for the last time. It'll be hard for her, but the time of it being hard for Grampie is long gone now. He won't miss her. A couple of weeks ago he told me he thought his wife was dead. "She's not," I told him. "She's coming to see you." But I think she's already dead in his deadening mind. This might sound harsh to say, but that's how it looks from here.

I hate Alzheimer's. I do. And I don't use the word hate easily. But I've been around this disease too much. I hate it and it makes me sad because it's death by degrees while the body still lives. Someone like Grampie might live a long time still--he eats like a horse (though he can't eat if there are people around because it's too much stimuli and he's distracted, and sometime soon, he won't know how to eat by himself at all) and is so strong it take two aides to move or dress or change him. But inside--where it counts-- he's going, going, gone.

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