December 2014: “You’ve got good things for the, for the, for the, the, the, the….” Mom struggles. We’ve just finished a music session with Eric, and she wants to share how it impacted her. She comes close to trapping the right word.
“You’ve got good things for the, for the, for the la, la, long, long, long, longity,” she finally manages. Others wouldn’t have known, but I understand immediately that she means “longevity.” Her attempt at a complex four-syllable word blows me away. For the sake of those I know will listen one day, I ask her to clarify. This is what it sounds like:
Her sense that our work with Eric helps keep her alive moves me to tears. I am so grateful, and I realize this is one of those amazing moments, a gateway to what I call her “clairvoyant intuition.” I grab my iPhone and clamp it into the makeshift DIY tripod I created from instructions on the Internet, and I begin to video our conversation. We talk for about half an hour. Correction: we sit across from each other in the kitchen for half an hour; the actual talk time is ten minutes at most. Mom knows what she wants to say, but extracting the right words from the alphabet soup of Alzheimer’s aphasia takes extraordinary determination on her part. So does practicing patience on mine. But when I do, I’m rewarded with great gifts.
Seemingly from nowhere, and without any prompting from me, Mom says, “You’ve done this thing.”
“What have I done Mom?” I ask.
“You’ve done something to help somebody. You came around to do this thing,” she says. She pauses for a long time. I wait. She processes. “I suppose what you think about really when, when, when, you try to help somebody to do something. I think that that’s a help. That’s a help to somebody. And that helps somebody with something.”
I listen beyond the repetition, and decode meanings as well as first- and third-person mix-ups. Her right hand is suspended about chest high. Her face is a mask of resolve. Mine is literally masked; I’ve got a cold and I’m trying to protect her. More processing. I nod my head. I listen with every fibre of my being. If she looked at me she could see my eyes, but she’s focused on a point somewhere in the space between us. I gaze directly at her. I lean in and love. She searches for words to express her thoughts and tries to build something I will understand. It takes time. Seconds go by. A minute follows. I encourage her with my silence.
“I think that’s a good thing for the person who is trying to help somebody who needs it,” Mom says
“Sometimes I wonder whether I’m doing the right thing Mom,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. “That’s true. Because it’s it’s it’s it’s a person that’s given you something.” I start to cry. “And this is the thing that’s helpful in this person’s life. You’ve got to know that…” She reaches out and touches my arm.
“I know Mom.” I barely hold it together. She tells me the one in control of her purse strings should help me to help her. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” I say. “I just keep trying to do my best Mom. And I’m glad it’s a good thing.” Her response is immediate and emphatic. She reaches out and again touches my arm. Her eyes suddenly fix on mine.
“It is a good thing. It is a good thing. The fact is that the person that you’re doing it for is somebody that you’ve got to do something for,” she says.
“I know Mom.” It’s time to go. I’m already late. But we still have a couple of things to share. Watch:
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