Thanksgiving was over a week ago but a conversation I had with my sister-in-law, Suemi still lingers in my mind-like so much leftover turkey you don’t know what to do with.
We found ourselves alone in the kitchen the morning after the holiday, everyone else was still passed out from turkey overdose, so we had a chance to have a private chat.
“Mom surprised me,” she said.
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“It’s been awhile since I've seen her and she looks so old, I’m surprised that she’s still walking so slow and using a cane. She doesn’t seem sure of her balance, always reaching out to grab onto something, like she thinks she’s going to fall. She’s how old? Seventy-three? Wow, by the way she walks and acts she looks ten years older.”
“It’s not only that”, she continued, “I can tell that she’s not the same, she’s not as confident as she used to be. I can see when I look into her face that something has changed.”
I listened, well aware of her metamorphosis into an “old lady”. Just a few years ago-before her diagnosis, she was active, independent and fearless, people were surprised when they found out how old she was. I listened, remembering who she was and quietly judging myself and wondering if I was being judged for her decline.
Suemi was surprised when I told her ho much Miss Cathy slept.
“Oh wow, that’s a lot!” she said eyes wide with amazement, “she can live another twenty years like that……just sleep, no work, no stress. A lot of old people live a long time that way.”
“Believe me I know,” I said nodding that I felt the same, “she’s like a bear hibernating through the rest of her life.”
But, she’s not completely stress free I reminded her, she still has her temper. Then I regaled my sister-in-law with some of the highlights of Miss Cathy’s rants against enemies and evils real and imagined.
I was kind of surprised that Suemi had seen so much change in Miss Cathy in just the space of three or four months.
She reminded me of the reason why I started this blog in the first place. I was very aware when I moved here that it was important to record the progression of her disease. I knew that change when come when I was busy tending to her and before I knew it ‘who she is’ would be the new normal and l would have forgotten how she ‘used to be’.
Tough as it is, these are the Halcyon days of Alzheimer’s, she’s still stage one dementia but the curtain can lift on stage two at any time and those challenges will make the previous diagnosis seem ‘quaint’ so I wanted to be sure to write it all down so that I could remind myself that it wasn’t all bad.
With caregivers, it seems that you deal with the person as they are “that day” and quickly you forget how it’s different from yesterday’s issues and challenges.
Some things, like the love you feel for them-and they for you are constant but everything else is kinda up for grabs. But knowing that, hell, and even writing about it doesn’t prepare you for an outsider’s observation (an outsider being anyone that isn’t their caregiver and hasn’t seen your loved one for awhile-be they friend or family) that validates your purpose.
Suemi held up a mirror so that I could see Miss Cathy (and myself) and it hit me that Thanksgiving this year is yet another marker of change in our family. We’re not a particularly sentimental bunch (well, I am but I’ve long maintained that someone made a scramble with the babies when I was born and I was left with the wrong people-all evidence and my striking familial resemblance to the clan aside).
Anyway, Thanksgiving became important to us as a family back in1997. It was the last time my pop was healthy enough to celebrate the holiday before cancer took him away the following spring. He’d been in the hospital just days before and the doctors weren’t holding out hope that he’d ever leave (alive) but he proved them wrong buy not only getting better, he sat at his place at Tony’s holiday table and ate like a man half his age and filled the room with his deep Barry White baritone and laughter. Since then we’ve made it a point to get together on the last Thursday in November.
And now, after not being at Tony’s last year because Miss Cathy just didn’t want to go we were all together this year but it’s different now. Not only do we have the memory of pop at the thanksgiving table to top our list of thanks, this year we add Miss Cathy’s joy and spontaneous “Star spangled banner”.
We will come together next here but the reality is that she probably won’t be the same but who knows, maybe she’ll surprise us and sing her favorite Bob Dylan song:
“How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the canon balls fly before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind”.