Before my mother lost her ability to speak I asked her what Alzheimer’s was like. She answered: “There’s something I want to say, it’s on the tip of my tongue, but my tongue just won’t work.”
My mother told me that four months before entering her new living space designed specifically for Alzheimer’s patients, some would call it a nursing home. I refuse to call my mother’s apartment a nursing home because when I was a kid we used to joke about her going to one. She would jokingly tell me, “When I’m old and drooling just make sure I still look good.” To me, if I admit she’s in a nursing home I’m also fulfilling a prophecy.
Truth be told, I don’t think I can tell you what having Alzheimer’s is like. I don’t have it — not that I know of, at least. What I can tell you is that four months before Elizabeth Pride, my mom, then 68, moved into her new apartment we talked about it.
We shared about what the disease felt like as I was driving her down a wavy road in Windham, Maine known as William Knight Road. It’s one of those wavy roads that your parents tell you not to speed on — but it’s the first road you see how fast your car can go with the help of the massive hills.
Mom and I had just done some “garage saleing,” and my mom, always thinking of other people, bought my Dad a book. I remember that I had to count the cash for her because I could sense she was very nervous about having to figure out how many bills to handover to the woman who was probably 15 years older than her. In fact, I can remember thinking, “This is stupid, my mom is so much younger than this old lady — yet this lady seems perfectly healthy and my mom isn’t. It’s just not fair.”
I was right. It’s not fair.
When we pulled away from the location where the sale was happening my mother told me that the disease is “sad and unfair — the one thing in this whole world she prayed she would never get.” Right after confessing this to me my mother looked out the passenger window and spotted some beautiful yellow flowers. She quipped, “I love those.” Without thinking, I responded, “You want them?” She said that she did, and I pulled over.
The one challenge of these budding flowers was that they lie in the flower bed of a home that was located on the side of the road. These flowers were not wildflowers — in fact, they were planted there on purpose by some faithful gardener. That didn’t stop me.
I got back in the car and handed my mother the yellow flowers and she held them close to her face and breathed in. We laughed that I had stolen them from the yard and just like that she said, “I’m sorry, who are you again? Where are we going?”
I reminded my mom that I was her youngest son and we had just spent the day garage sailing, picking flowers, and laughing. I told her it was a great day. She replied, “Of course we did. I remember you. Sometimes I just get confused.”
So, what is Alzheimer’s like? It’s a like a gargantuan mirror to life reminding us that something could be lurking in our future that would make us really regret not stopping the car, stealing the flowers, and laughing all the way back home. It’s not fair, it’s not prejudice, it is angering, heartbreaking, and final.
Most of all, Alzheimer’s is a reminder that perhaps what we’re doing today doesn’t matter that much. Maybe this weekend we shouldn’t pace the yard behind the lawnmower, or catch up on past-due proposals, perhaps we should simply covet our time together creating memories that if someday are stolen from us, someone else can recant.