ALZHEIMER’S & THE GIFT OF FORGETTING

     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.    

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