Alzheimer disease has been called The Long Goodbye. It is also The Long Grieving. Over the last few weeks I have watched my Bert lose some more brain cells. Now I am more instantly aware that it is happening. That was not always so. Prior to this it would take some prolonged period of imperceptible change for the loss to be noticed.
One morning he had his yogurt after his sandwich as usual. The next morning he does not eat it and I ask: “Don’t you want your yogurt today?”
My Bert looks at his plate, his cup, and his knife then picks up the banana peel and says:” Oh, yes, I do. I want my yogurt.” He begins to put the peel in his mouth. I stop him and give him the yogurt. I do not wait for this to recur. I know yogurt is now another item that befuddles his mind. His brain no longer recognizes that so familiar item which has been a part of his breakfast for as long as I can remember.
My Bert now tells me goodnight and says he is going upstairs to bed. There is no upstairs in our home. In fact we live in a condo and have always lived in bungalows. He needs to be reassured that yes, this is our bedroom, yes, this is our bed, yes, I will be sleeping in that same bed, yes we will be sleeping together and yes, Jan, Gerard, Ossie, Wendy, Marg, Meintje and a few more people, all who are already dead will be sleeping with us too. I offer no correction nor explanation. If my Bert is less anxious having them with us, well, come on in.
Each day my Bert tells me repeatedly how much he loves me. I wonder if he is saying it to reassure himself. Maybe it is just that familiar phrase he has been saying for so long and so often. Maybe he likes the smile it brings and the:”I love you too.” I know it has not lost its meaning for him nor for me.
I sometimes catch a vacant look, accompanied by an unintelligible mumble. I wonder what is going on in his brain. Do the amyloid plaques cause any sensation as they fill up and kill off another cell? What about the tau tangles? Do they emit any sound as the deterioration accelerates? There is no indication of pain but I wonder if there is anything, any sensation that tells my Bert something is amiss. I will never know.
My Bert is entering the late stages of dementia. I am in the beginning stages of grieving.
To see the Light you must live in the now, yet I cannot forget what was. I remember the good times, the fun we had, the amazing life we lived but I am remembering in the past tense as if my Bert is the past. I censor myself. My Bert is still here. There are still moments of absolute clarity and I can see what used to be in the here and now.
Now I understand the ambiguity of memory. It can be soothing and at the same time cruel. Memory is the handmaiden of grief. The mind of its own volition brings up memories and by definition that means the past. I am remembering the then, the before and it is making the now unbearable. The mind and my memories are not static or finite. Therefore, neither is the grief. I am grieving the loss of yesterday, last year, our beginning and yesterday. My memory meanders with the mind’s stream of consciousness, skittering hither, thither and yon and grief is its partner.
My Bert is slowly leaving me.
The Light dims as I contemplate the inevitable.
Imagining the after is unendurable.
There is still some light. The loss is not complete. I grieve but do not yet mourn.
The Meander: My respect and admiration for caregivers is immeasurable. No matter how special this particular challenge is, the journey is heart breaking. It tests the will. It is an obligation made bearable by love. You have no choice. I know. I love. I hurt. I am a caregiver too.