Sometimes she will say, “I think I’m losing my mind, Brit. I don’t know up from down anymore.”
Then I’ll look at her, smile, and ask, “Which way is up?” She points to the sky; I call her a liar and she laughs.
It’s the most appropriate human response I have to fact that she is, indeed, losing her mind. The other option is running away. The most tragic and heartbreaking part about Alzheimers is the moments when they realize their mind is going. As hard as it is for us, I cannot imagine what it’s like for them.
A couple of days ago, I took my grandma for a walk. It was hard for her to even move her legs considering she sits in a chair all day long. Since I couldn’t bare the thought of going back inside the sterile rehab facility where she is temporarily staying, we sat down on the bench to talk.
She still remembers who we are, but rarely knows where she is and always looks scared. My grandpa takes care of her; unfortunately, he was admitted to ICU last week and most likely won’t make it out. She constantly asks where he is.
Out of nowhere, in a moment of perfect clarity, she looked up at me and said, “My how the tables have turned.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Well, I used to take care of you…and now you’re taking care of me,” she responded with a somber face.
It’s the kind of full circle you never want to happen. I quickly distracted myself by eavesdropping on the conversation between these two men:
I heard one of them saying he has been married for 65 years, but his wife hasn’t recognized him for the last two. I empathized with him and struck up a conversation immediately.
I asked them what their names were. The 60 yr-old African-American guy turned to me and said, “Tom Cruise, ‘cept I ain’t got his money.” I laughed and was trying to determine in my mind if he was joking or if he actually legitimately thought he was Tom Cruise. “That’s funny,” I said, simultaneously rolling my eyes.
“No, that’s really his name,” his friend said with all the authority of Dwight Schrute. “I eat with him and I’ve seen his ID card.”
“And I’m NBC” he affirmatively added.
Ok. Yep, these guys are officially nuts.
“Niles Baldwin Claussen,” he continued.
“Like the pickle?” I asked. “Yes, but you can call me NBC.”
I learned that he had beaten pancreatic cancer 17 years ago. “But that has a 99% fatality rate, right?” I asked.
“Correct. I’m Mr. 1%,” NBC replied. “Well, well, maybe someday I’ll see you on a Smuckers commercial when you turn 100,” I said.
He was currently at the rehab facility while he was undergoing chemo for bladder cancer, which my grandma also battled several years ago. He said the reason he didn’t have any friends to take care of him was because he had outlived them all.
Tom Cruise kept interjecting into the conversation with little comments. “My wife died last year,” he mumbled under his breath. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “I been married three times… But she was the best I ever had.”
Oh, that Tom Cruise. Such a character.
Although he was completely debilitated and confined to a wheelchair, he kept saying, “Blessed to be alive. Fortunate to have lived this long.”
On the way home, it occurred to me how rarely I remember that just being young is something to be thankful for. To have empty pages. Quality years ahead, where health problems are nothing more than just hypochondria. To be starting a life with someone, not anticipating the end. To have the opportunity to try things and fail.
To even have the ability to remember.
Wondering where I went? I have returned to blogging over at my whole foods blog Celery and the City, where we live so clean it’s like your insides took a bath.