We would like to believe that
each of us, in our own time, will find her again. Somewhere out there where green
willow trees bend to meet sparkling blue waters, she will be waiting--with that very
special twinkle in her eyes, a fishing pole in her hand, and surely a very large catfish
on the end of her line.
~ Barb's eulogy, on the death of their sister Marge
Breakfast: Special K
TODAY on TV
The West Wing
(also the Kings' playoff game!)
SURE, I REMEMBER...I THINK
20 May 2004
"Can you see your nose?"
"I can just see the tip of it," she said, crossing her eyes and squinting.
"I want to cut my nose off," the other replied.
"Then youll look like Michael Jackson," was the reply.
Was I eavesdropping on a couple of grammar school girls having a chit-chat while waiting for the bus, playing games, and teasing each other?
No, I was sitting in a spare room at a convalescent hospital near Sacramento and I was watching my mother and my aunt Barb checking out each others noses.
My uncle's widow, Pat, has come down from Oregon and she and my mother, along with my cousin Peach, planned to go to the hospital to visit Barb today.
"I don't suppose you'd like to come with us, would you?" my mother asked, when I spoke with her yesterday.
"Sure!" I said, realizing that I had a stack of tapes to transcribe and a feature story to write, but not wanting to pass up the opportunity to spend some "family time" and to visit Barb. I remember the sadness in Nancy Reagan's voice recently as she announced "Ronnie has finally gone to that place where I can no longer reach him..." and I know that Barb's time for joining him in that place where Alzheimers patients eventually reach, while waiting to die, will come all too soon. While she's still with us, mentally as well as physically, I wanted the chance to spend time with her.
We drove to Peach's house and picked her up and then stopped off at Raley's to get stuff for lunch, finally arriving at Barb's around 12:30. We sent Peach off down the hall to get Barb, while we set up the table in the spare room we were able to use. Chicken, fruit salad, drinks and a sinful looking strawberry shortcake.
Barb was surprised to find us there. You never really know with her. She describes her brain as taking in information and putting it in a giant ball with other information and then throwing it out. I'm never sure she knows who I am, but she greets me the way I greet people I can't remember to save my soul, but who know me very well. We were fairly certain she didn't recognize Pat at all, since she hasn't seen her in several years. She's become a good actress.
But she always recognizes my mother, and the longer we are there, the more my mother is able to pull out old memories from her brain. There are always a lot of laughs and you can see her kind of drifting in and out of awareness of who we all are.
I was thrilled, though, when at one point she pointed at me and said they should watch what they say around me because I would be the one to write it all down. She and I always had this bond about writing and I knew that at least in that moment, she knew who I was.
She was also "with it" when my mother asked what she thought of George Bush.
"He's a nut," she said, a look of distaste crossing her face. She may be losing her mind, but she still obviously has some wits about her!
We were there about two hours and she held up pretty well, under the circumstances, though she finally started drooping and then dozed off. We knew she had reached her tolerance limit. Peach and my mother got her up and opened the door to the hall to take her back to her room.
"Which way do we go?" she asked, confused at having to make the decision of turning left down the long hall, or right out into the parking lot, of the place she has lived for two years.
It's always sad that the wise, witty woman I grew up with is no more, but in her place is this older, softer, slower, but still funny, woman and it's nice to be able to get to know this new person and to visit her every now and then.
In 1999, earlier in her Alzheimers, Barb wrote a piece called "The Mind--Losing It." This seems a good place to reprint it, as a description of what it's like from the view of the Alzheimers patient herself....
My uncle, her "caregiver" died two years ago. She hasn't been told, because she would never remember and would have to be told over and over again. She almost never asks about him.