Thursday, June 21, 2012

...aging and alzheimer's: fade out control, fade in shift



This past week Bill and I returned to our hometown, Dublin, Georgia, to see his mother. Miss Jean - like my mother and my late husband's mother, like too many I've loved - has Alzheimer's. Or rather, this bloody awful disease has her. She has cycled from confusion to paranoia into silence during this last year. Her few words are, for the most part, confused, although moments of clarity arise unexpectedly. She is still at home inside her frail body but she rests so very, very close to a gaping door that leads to a mute and solitary journey. 


This now fragile lady has fallen three times in recent weeks. She's had hip surgery, followed by a serious infection that left her weak and more confused. In the days following surgery, she was able to take one hundred and fifty steps at a time. But in the intervening weeks, all progress was lost. While realistic about her prognosis, we know that immobility will cause her greater suffering as endless days in a chair break down her body. So Bill and Bonnie coaxed and cajoled and confronted roadblocks to her recovery. Meds that left her groggy were discontinued. Bill treated her daily. The first day, she couldn't stand. By the end of the second, with several arms holding and lifting, she made five brief upright attempts. On Sunday, she grabbed hold of her walker and walked a bit, then repeated this on Monday and Tuesday.


One of my favorite books is Clyde Edgerton's Walking Across Egypt, the story of an elderly woman who takes to heart a sermon about "the least of these" and takes in a juvenile delinquent. Set in the south that I knew as a child, the book evokes powerful memories. The characters lived down the street and around the corner from us. Several were close relations. As one who has often wandered in the wilderness like the lost tribes of Israel, I can relate to Edgerton's tale. The title ran through my mind several times during our too-brief visit as we joined Bonnie in a walk with Miss Jean across her personal Egypt: a difficult, confused journey through a foreign land. 

Leaving was bittersweet. We wanted more time. With Alzheimer's, what slips away first is the most recent and what remains freshest is that which came earliest in life. Miss Jean now lives in another decade - which one, we aren't sure - and everyday the clock continues its backward sweep.  If we are granted another visit, we don't know who we will find. But once again, we left with hugs, with one more glimpse of Mother. How precious when our first and last steps of life are made in loving arms. The dance of grace and shift continues.    




3 comments:

Jeannette said...

You have hereby put tender words for the unspoken hearts and lives of so many. REally a sensitive portrayal. Thank you.

Celeste said...

Jeanette, I've lost five "mothers" to Alzheimer's: mine, my late husband's, Bill's, plus my sweet Aunt Jo who was a "mama" to me in so many ways and Mrs. Powell, teacher/mentor/dear, dear friend. Uncles and friends, as well...a letting go that is at once maddening and incredibly precious.

BrightSoul said...

praying with you for Miss Jean...