Flashback summer 2013: My Mom has never been at a loss for words. Until now.
A brain gone awry and antipsychotic medication often silence this consummate “schmoozer” who once talked to anyone, anywhere, anytime about anything. Now she’s subdued and compliant. Except when she’s provoked (in which case you might get a slap), or when she sings. Oh yes, when the medication wears off she still puts up good fight (to the dismay of some), and sings with gusto (to the delight of others).
She knows all the words to all the old songs. Seemingly hundreds of them. She even sings in her sleep. Music is therapeutic for people who have dementia, and it surely brings Mom great joy. Conversing (conversely) has become increasingly problematic. Mom’s sentences still have subjects and verbs, but often lack objects. Like her, they tend to wander aimlessly, lost and alone.
Also like her, they may take a few steps forward then stop dead in their tracks, suspended mid-thought above an Alzheimer’s abyss into which they disappear unless someone snatches them from thin air and tosses them onto meaningful ground. That’s my job: snatching and tossing and throwing it all into a daily batch of homemade Alzheimer’s alphabet soup.
“We’ve got to…,” she starts. “To…. To….” Then nothing. Nada. To jump, swing, sit, stand, talk, listen, eat, sleep, give, rake, bake, shake, or “go to the peeps” perhaps? Take your pick; fill in the blank. It’s easy to do with a sentence, less so with the vacant look on her face. She doesn’t laugh much anymore, her sense of humour having recently gone AWOL. It’s partly because of the drugs she’s being given, the drugs she would be taking less of if I were in charge. But I’m not. A mask-like face is one of the side effects of Risperdal, a bi-polar disorder anti-psychotic which is also prescribed to Alzheimers patients. It has robbed her of many of her facial expressions.
I miss Mom’s smile, her frown and her feistiness, though some of the latter remains, to the chagrin of those who cross her unknowingly! How can I miss her before she’s even gone–this woman with whom I have struggled for at least a lifetime, maybe more if the Buddhists are right? On the other hand, how can I have come to love the person she has become, even though that person is so unlike the one she once was? I wonder about life. And time. She wonders about nothing much. Or so I thought. I’ll find out later when there’s a break in the Alzheimer’s clouds.
“That’s a nice…” she says. “A nice…a nice…a nice…” She searches. Draws another blank. Unknowingly invites me to practice improv.
“Pair of shoes?” I offer.
She goes with it: “Shoes. These are my shoes. I made them myself.”
“I know you did Mom. You did an awesome job. Nice colour.”
“What colour?” She queries
“They’re beige Mom. Your new shoes are beige.”
“My shoes are beige,” she repeats.
“Yeah. Your new shoes are beige, Mom. You like them.” I lift a glass of water (wishing it were wine) from the chair-side table, raise it to my lips, take a sip, and wait for what’s next.
She observes: “Yeah, beige. They drink shoes on the water over there.” Her damaged brain creates a random connection between the water I’m drinking, the shoes she’s wearing, and some unknown destination. There’s something to be said for random connections. So I forge ahead and make another one.
“They drink shoes?” I query.
“Yeah,” she agrees.
“I bet they do it in their pockets,” I say. Mom has her own version of rhyming slang, and any mention of “pockets” is guaranteed to elicit its kissin’cousin “sockets.”
“Pocket socket,” she says, as I knew she would. “Pocket socket.” I confirm. This is the stuff of mid- to later-stage Alzheimer’s “conversations.” So are snippets such as: “Do you want to put the tea bag in the pot Mom?” To which she replies: “Yeah. Put the tea bag in the pot or the tea bag in my hair on the corner.” Or she says: “We have to try to get the boy on the surface because poor subpoena.” To which I answer: “Subpoena?” And she replies: “Poor subpoena didn’t get enough to eat.”
But every now and again an unexpected ray of clarity scissors through the fog like a shaft of light piercing a cloud bank at sunset. These are fragile and wondrous moments of astonishing beauty. They may be joyful, tearful, soulful, and tragic (or any and/or all of the above and more). They may last for seconds, minutes, or even hours before the clouds fully block the rays again or they fade into twilight then darkness.