Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some Skills Persist

The caregiver, Grace and I will often play "Wheel of Fortune", sort of like hangman. I was surprised that Grace does pretty good at figuring out lengthy, partially completed word puzzles. She is not too sharp at selecting appropriate letters for the puzzle, but once the puzzle starts to take shape she furrows her brow in deep concentration and then BOOM - she gets it! Last week she solved The Field Museum of Natural History with just 5 or 6 letters on the board...I was amazed.

And I continue to be corrected when I make a grammatical error such as, "Where is mywife at?"

"That is not correct grammar!"

Since the onset of winter the morning greeting has always included, "I hate winter, when is winter going to be over...?" I believe we're all wondering the same thing.

Then and Now

The caregivers actually have an advantage. They don’t remember Grace before Alzheimer’s started stealing her from us.

I can still hear her laugh. My dad could bring out this laugh that starting in her toes and bubbled up for all of us to hear. She was always about two minutes behind every joke which only made it funnier. But she was patient and good natured; still able to enjoy the rapid fire humor that bounced around my childhood home.

I remember her caring for me. I remember her listening to me as I rattled on and on about my day, school, activities, and later my kids, my divorce. Blindly, she stayed on my side and built me up with kind words of encouragement. She told me I was smart, pretty and a good mother (totally unbiased, of course).

When I was pregnant, she was there. When I was sick, she was there. But she knew when to leave, too. She knew how to be in my daughters’ lives without being overbearing. She knew that if they didn’t call it was because they were busy being teenagers; not because they forgot her. She was confident in their love, in my love, in her husband’s love.

She had her girlfriends. Any week was filled with lunches and outings. If they weren’t available, she’d go out alone to lunch or a movie. One local restaurant can hardly believe that she isn’t coming back anymore… that she can’t remember what to order or how to order… that she can’t remember how she’ll get home.

She needs constant reassurance, afraid that she is unloved, forgotten…afraid that she is not cared for. Her friends used to call, but her distance and confusion made it hard for them to relate. Where was the old Grace? Who is this person?

Like a small child, she needs care. She needs to be reminded that she is loved and valued. Her fears haunt her, but they go unarticulated.

She can’t hear me; she can’t understand me. Often I have to repeat several times, but I have to keep it simple. Sometimes I have to write it down.

Most of all, I miss her smile, I miss her laugh.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sleeping Pills

Sitting at the counter trying to figure out how to start this blog, I heard the door open tentatively. I was certain what was going to come next and I was not disappointed. She emerged with her pants off, granny panties, skinny legs, cheap slippers... "I need sleeping pills..."

I put them in her room two hours ago.

She has taken them and forgotten.


I have to hang tough. "I already gave them to you."

"I didn't take them"

"I can't help you." But I can tell by the slurred speach that she has already taken them.

She turns slowly and walks back to her room. The door closes.

It has taken months to get to this point. She used to fight me. Somehow she learned that arguing didn't help.... that I wasn't going to change my mind.

She'd accuse me of judging her, of trying to deny her the pills. She'd threaten to make notes next time and keep track. All the while I just had to hang tough because the pills were killing her. She'd take some, forget, take more, forget, take more ... then there was the call in the middle of the night and we'd have to go over and pick her up off the floor. I saved one of the phone messages in case I forget.

But what kind of life am I saving? Is she happy? Would I be happy? Is this the right thing to do?

I feel awful. She is lost in her own head. It must be terrifying to not remember what happened five minutes ago, to constantly have to wonder where everyone is and ask over and over. The insecurity must be awful.

She self medicates to make it easier. She doesn't understand why she is so sad or scared. She just knows she feels bad. She misses her husband. She misses her father. She misses where she used to live, but I really am not sure where that is.

She spends much of her day sleeping yet she is afraid that she won't sleep. But she does. And she sleeps soundly. She gratefully accepts the wine I give her saying it will 'calm her nerves' but there is no alcohol in the wine.

But it tastes good and comes in a pretty bottle