Thursday, June 28, 2007

History that Cannot be Remembered

Some of us want to preserve the thoughts and concerns of a moment. We want to wake up that which is alert and coherent from within, now. We also want to record others, whose memories both positive and negative require attention. We want to present what we think before we cease to think.

Living and sharing time with those who struggle to communicate with Alzheimers is both challenging and disappointing. You want to encourage that one profound sentence that usually ends up, unarticulated. For the last ten years, I experienced a grandmother with self assurance devolve until her passing this evening. Alzheimers stole her memory and her loss of function followed.

Time spent with those who cannot speak, but seem to visually recall a momentary recollection of life through photographs has its rewards. The afflicted may regress into a shell of oblivion, but we need to make a connection and remove that person from the doldrums. When few others are paying attention, you have their attention and in that fleeting moment, there is appreciation, clarity, and purpose. It is subtle and certain, yet limited.

The physicians claim that all memory is lost with Alzheimers. The ability to eat, speak and remember are eventually forgotten, so that skills must be re-learned on a daily basis. If true, then memories seem temporarily revived just as the ability to swallow. I spent those visits showing my grandmother the photographs that she kept until she had no other choice but to leave her home. She had to be observed to keep her alive and out of harms way.

She told us about getting disoriented and seeking refuge in someone else's home. We heard about her episode with Miami's Finest, which led to the loss of her drivers license. We recalled as she began to do a few things out of kindness or desperation in an effort to seek some sort of recall or perhaps more visits. There was resistence to diagnosis. We remember the flood and the impact of her recognition of not knowing or sensing responsibility.
As time passed, she could not be left alone unless it was a safe environment free of too many obstacles. The physical manifestations that may have been unique to her struggle with Alzheimers became obvious and were accommodated, even if seemingly awkward to some.

Of course, we make decisions and each brings both opportunities and costs. Some of us spend so much time away that we forget that there is sense in our elders, even if it is limited. The feeling left after loss can be sudden and at times seem unforgiving. Yet, I spent hours scanning the images of her life, printing those images, and making them a more permanent part of my family history. I used those photos to refresh her memory by showing them to those amused pair of eyes that expressed both appreciation and animation.

I planned on bringing more items that might assist her in these last days. The menu from a spa that she used to keep healthy might have surprised her. Perhaps, a few items that might send her senses some isolated memory trapped in the tumbleweeds of congealed matter that we are led to believe once housed the images of her life.

I was not expecting a call, nor notice that it would end, so suddenly. The condition becomes so entrapped in your expectation that you know what to expect and continue to anticipate it. Yet, when life becomes lost, it almost appears as if those who are confused depend upon daily reassurance and without it, there is a lose of interest.

I don't know what to make out of Alzheimers, only that it takes lives in a manner that robs us of our need to know. We want to know more, but are grasping at the mind of someone who is incapable of remembering life, yet continues to exist. You speak, stare, revive, but cannot get the response or information out. You become their hard drive and if they can boot you up, you give their minds a thought or two.

I couldn't take photographs, because it wasn't what I wanted to remember. She could no longer remember how she took care of herself. Yet, I visited, saw, and spoke, so it seems like in doing so, this was the image of that person in those final days.


lwlehmer said...

What a touching post. How difficult it is to watch a loved one slip away in such a manner. As one who helps people save their family histories, I use the example of reminiscence therapy as a means of maintaining a connection in such circumstances. It sounds as if you did a good job of keeping the flame burning for as long as you could. I'm sorry for your loss, but you should be proud of your kind efforts. -- Larry Lehmer

Michael Harrington said...

Whoa....I had to take a deep breath after reading that. It hit too close to home, and reminded me about the passing of my mother a few years ago. I offer my condolences and prayers to you. Also, thanks and praise for bringing some light and spirit to your grandmother in the twilight of her life and final days.

We so easily overlook the fact that time here, for ourselves and those for whom we care, is precious and fleeting. We need to celebrate every moment. The sad day inevitably comes when it is too late to do so.

Toni said...

To watch a loved one be stripped of dignity, of the capability to remember and laugh is, indeed, a most helpless feeling. We lost our mother to this hideous disease too.

Waiting for the ending to the unfinished sentence, wondering if she could hear the Benny Goodman music would often lend new insight to a miracle. Somehow, I know she was connecting....just as you knew your grandmother was connecting to your loving therapy.