Monday, October 24, 2016

Rip Current

Alzheimer's Mom has fixed ideas. It can be hard to suppress the need to correct her. Some of these ideas are a result of moving her. Even though it has been almost year since we moved her, she has this idea that she is on vacation. She'll say that "when we go home from here," or "It's been so nice to spend all this time with you, but I'm ready to go home."

Sometimes, she looks around her house and recognizes her stuff, but other times she'll claim things were here when she moved in. For example, her new house has built in bookshelves in the living room.  Her books are in those shelves. She packed the books at her old house, and she helped to unpack and put them on the new shelves. But she'll say--"the people who used to live here left those books." I used to try to help her see them as her books--I would take them out and show her name written in the fly leaf, and I would feel frustrated at how her refusal to accept her move. One day when my sister was visiting, my mom was showing her around her "rental house," and said "these books were here when I moved in." Kim didn't miss a beat, she said "have you read any of them?" and mom went on to have a discussion about how much she loves to read. I realized that as frustrated as I am by mom's "refusal," I am just as stuck in needing her to recognize her stuff.  That trying to "help" her recognize stuff is something I need from her, not something she needs.

When I was kid, I once went fishing with my dad along the Little Miami River. I was bored with fishing, and wanted to swim in the river. Dad said I couldn't swim in the river because it has undertows and rip currents caused by shoals in the river bed. "You can get sucked under in a flash, and I wouldn't be able to save you." I looked at the placid slow moving river and thought "but I am a good swimmer." I wanted to argue that I could handle the current.

Now, when I am talking to mom, I understand what a rip current is and how it can drag you under. It's not just that mom has shoals in her riverbed, either. Sometimes the current is caused by my own need to make her see things the way they are and not the way her brain is reconstructing them. Yesterday she was talking about how I was as a child, congratulating herself on how well I turned out. The person and events she described had nothing to do with me, and as far as I am aware, none of my siblings either. I felt such an upsurge of anger at her for not seeing me, for making up a fake me and being so proud of the fake me.

She often complains to me about me. I can be with her and she'll tell me she has a daughter that lives next door that never comes over. I can be walking with her and she'll tell me that her daughter that lives next door should walk with her because she is putting on weight. She'll tell me that her daughter has a pretty face, but could brighten herself up if she would wear lipstick.  She'll tell me that she used to walk three miles a day, but now she doesn't get to walk anymore, because her daughter won't walk with her.

I know that Alzheimer's makes her lonely. I know she can't remember that my brother was there on Sunday, and her "friend" Tina was there Monday night, or that I come over every day for coffee in the morning, or that Kim comes on Tuesdays, or that Wendy called, or that Jamie face timed. I know she doesn't remember that I've been there two minutes after I've left. I know that when she follows me across the yard and knocks on the door, its because she wants company, not because I am not doing enough. But it can make me feel very frustrated. I feel like I am caught in the current of her lost memory, losing my reality, losing contact with the bottom of things.

I thank God for my siblings, who can verify that my world exists. Who can say "yeah, that never happened." Who can say "she did that when I was there." Who can say to me, "its ok." I am grateful for friends that let me talk on and on about how hard it is. I am grateful that the same lost memory that pulls me under, makes her forget how I occasionally try to reorder her reality to fit mine. She doesn't stay mad at me for showing her the name on the fly leaf of a book, or showing her a picture of herself walking with me. She is always glad to see me when I knock on her door, even if I go out frustrated and come back in one minute, she answers the door as if we haven't seen each other in years. Always, she is a gentle, placid river on the surface. 

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