Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Thief!

"Those are the sweetest puppies!" my mother in law exclaimed, patting our Molly's tiny head. "What are their names?"

"Magic and Molly," I replied patiently. It was the third time she had asked that question in the 20 minutes that we'd been at her apartment. And undoubtedly she would ask me several more times before the visit was over. My mother in law, along with a very large percentage of other elderly people, was robbed a few years ago. Actually, the thief is still living somewhere in her brain, robbing her of her memory every minute of every day.

And who or what is this terrible felon - is it the aging process, a lack of anti-oxidant's or an excess of cholesterol? Is it because her arteries have clogged or her brain has shrunk? Is it just terrible bad luck or a genetic tendency?

Medical science will trot out all of these explanations, never able to provide definitive answers.
My mother in law has not been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - her doctor calls it senile dementia, which has many of the same devastating practical effects. She is no longer able to drive, or live alone, or pay her bills, or be responsible for her own medications or daily schedule. She needs to be reminded to eat, bathe, and get dressed. When we go to visit, she seems to recognize us, but we're always too afraid to ask her if she knows our names, fearful that her blank look and panicked attempt to remember them would be too painful for her and for us to bear.

It's as if this dastardly thief entered her head while she was sleeping and keeps poking holes in her brain, allowing her logical thought processes and memories to slowly seep out like sand through the mesh of a fine sieve. By the time we realized he was there, it was too late to apprehend him with the usual weapons of medication and therapy. He has taken up permanent residence and will not be ousted.

Early on in this process, my mother in law was aware that something was wrong. "My head feels funny," she would say repeatedly. When pressed to be more specific, all she could say was that "it felt like something was missing." And something was-her memories of her past life as a wife and mother, a professional woman, a person who played pinochle several times a week, and went to church with her friend every Sunday.

This disease frightens me beyond all others, probably because my mind is so important to me. The thought of losing my memories of my parents and children, my past accomplishments, my skills, my awareness of words and what they mean, or music and how to play it - it's like the worst horror movie imaginable. I would take any precaution I could to keep this horrendous thief away from my door. But this one requires more than a good deadbolt lock, and I don't think anyone really knows what the best deterrent is.

Oddly enough, this disease has had one positive effect on my mother in law. Always a rather worried and pessimistic person, she has become very relaxed and seems perpetually content. She seems to have no worries or concerns, and is perfectly satisfied with the simplest of entertainments. Like our visits with Magic and Molly.

"Those are just the sweetest dogs!" she exclaims over and over. "What did you say their names were?"


Blogger Star said...

I was tempted but couldn't seem to bring myself to tackle this particular thief. You did it well, Becca. I'm glad for you (and your mother-in-law) that she has turned from pessimistic to content. And I can also identify with not wanting to ask if she knows who you are.

I'm sure she appreciates your visits (and M & M) more than she can express.

Blogger trailbee said...

Thank you for nailing this disease so well. When I was working in LA I had a client whose husband was diagnosed exactly the same way. It was heartbreaking to watch the deterioration of this 6 ft. plus giant, who had been so productive in his lifetime, waste away until he finally died. I am nearing this fateful age, and maybe this is the reason I am running so hard - trying to avoid the thief. What makes it so scary is the fact that this is irreversible, and that there is no remedy, medical or otherwise.

Blogger Jennifer said...

excellent writing, very moving (I really like the way you used the dogs to open and close your thoughts on this topic)

such a terrible and frightening disease - awaiting a cure

Blogger Cate said...

I'm always moved by your writing, but I was especially touched by this piece. Your analogy is brilliant--such a spot-on way to describe dementia and its power to rob us on so many levels.

My thoughts are with your family. xo

Blogger Pacian said...

This brought tears to my eyes, even though I have no direct experience of this. Thank you for writing this.

Blogger paris parfait said...

Beautiful writing about a painful subject. And how lovely your mother-in-law is able to enjoy the dogs, as well as your visits - even if she can't remember for long. Such a tragic thief - I wish it would be vanquished from the world.

Blogger bb said...

So touching that you feel your mother in law can only relax now this illness has taken hold - there's certainly a lesson there for us all to ponder.
Great writing (and my thoughts are with you and your family x)

Blogger Tammy said...

Beautiful post of the worst disease I can imagine. I may one day not be able to move but I will have my mind. You are very lucky with her being calm. My beloved papa turned very mean. Thank you for sharing.

Blogger deirdre said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's heartbreaking to see someone you love lose the ability to remember the smallest details.

Blogger jzr said...

Thanks for writing about this horrible disease. So far I have no experience of this and pray I never will.

Blogger Susannah said...

B, this was so very moving and heartfelt. i know the contentment your mother-in-law feels is no consolation for you, but i am glad she is finding pleasure in the small things of life. perhaps when we lose our memories (and therefore let go of the past) we truly do live in the moment...

(ps. i *love* the banner :-)

Blogger mobilemob said...

I'm impressed with your site, very nice graphics!


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