Only ONCE did Granny say to me during her Alzheimer’s years, “I think I am losing my memory.” It was towards the end, in the middle of that period when she was wearing a diaper and I was re-instructing her on how to use a spoon. She didn’t even know my name and my first instinct was to laugh. Instead I replied: “Yes, Granny. You are.” She paused and then added, “Well, I guess that’s God’s way of making me forget what might hurt me to remember.”**
Wow. That moment literally changed my thinking about the whole Alzheimer’s saga; the nightmarish horror of watching a person go from themself to NO self. Until then I was always on the outside looking in. Now I had a tiny glimpse of the inside looking out and it seemed less frightening. While memory brings me both joy & sorrow and while it is memory that has informed who I am, it was not mine at birth. Alzheimer’s returns us to childhood, albeit in a convoluted way. Of course the particular journey back differs for everyone.
In all, Granny’s journey was a gentle one, much like the man who swam next to me this morning. Well, he wasn’t swimming exactly, just kind of grinning as he dog-paddled back and forth. I guessed him at about 65, but the incessant grin was more reminiscent of a six year-old. As I lapped him I kept trying to remember where I had seen him before. I knew that it was not here in the adult lap pool. Then it came to me. He was the same man I had seen months earlier being held by the hand of a caregiver in the shallow end of the kiddie pool!!
For a moment I panicked. I stopped to check on him. Yup. Still grinning with his head out of the water. Suddenly, he stopped, and said to me, “Oh. I thought you were my daughter.” Before I could reply he said, “Or my daughter’s friend? Or are you my …daughter….?” As he kept trying to figure out who I was, I suddenly replied: “Yes. I am your friend. We are friends!” “Friends!” he grinned as he dog-paddled away. As I left, I recognized his caregiver on the other side of the kiddie pool. “Does he have Alzheimer’s?” I asked her. “Why, yes,” she replied. “How did you know?” “Well,” I replied. “There are certain things you don’t forget…..at least while you can still remember.” (** Excerpt from, “Kissing Tomatoes,” http://www.helen-hudson.com.
Fortunately there is research going on (like stem cells) that may one day serve the cure this disease.