I cannot figure out this disease. Alzheimer’s keeps me guessing. Just when I think that all I will hear from my mom is about two words, and that she has lost so much weight that we may be near the end, things change. Now she won’t stop talking. Granted, you cannot understand everything she is saying, but she is actually able to communicate, and we can understand a lot of what she is saying.
A few weeks ago I was at the point again where I was dreading the visits. My 12-year-old son had unexpectantly lost his best friend and the condition that my mom was in had me worried that I was going to lose her next. I wasn’t ready to deal with another death. I knew that if I did lose her then, I would be in a very bad place.
As I always do, I made myself go visit. I knew that if I didn’t, I would regret it. I went in for our regular visit, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. She was a new woman. Do I mean she was completely lucid and we had in depth conversations? Of course not, but we did have conversations. I could ask her questions and she would do her best to answer them. Sometimes she would say the wrong word, but it was close enough so that I knew what she was saying. Sometimes she stuttered the word or answer over and over. But she answered me. It was as if, all this time, she had been stuck in a dark room searching for the switch that needed to be turned on and finally she found it. The room is not lighted as brightly as it used to be, but the light is enough for us to find each other.
Despite what others tried to tell me, I always knew that she still knew me. Even through the darkness, the silence, she knew me. Mom always smiled differently when I came in. Though she might say only two words, she made her best attempt to communicate her feelings by forcing out those words. And she would, randomly, say a sentence to me. It was like a flash of lightning on a pitch-black night. Things were still connecting.
And now, each time I visit her, she talks with me, answers questions. She tries to sing along with songs I play her. And she gives indications that, at times, she knows exactly what is going on.
I recently went on a trip that a friend planned. The trip dates happened to fall during her birthday. Every other year I had celebrated on her birthday, brought her gifts and treats, but I never felt like she knew what was going on. I figured celebrating her birthday this year a few days after it would not really matter. Did she even know what a birthday was? Just before I was leaving for the trip, I visited her. She was getting her hair done, and I was explaining to her the situation about not being there for her birthday. Mom sulked and said, “I am going to be so lonely.” At first I did not understand exactly what she had said, but then Chinel, who was doing her hair, confirmed it. She understood. Our mouths dropped open. I explained that I would celebrate her birthday after I got back and promised to bring her treats and something fancy. That was enough to perk her up.
After her hair appointment, Chinel was telling her goodbye, gave her a hug and kiss, and told her she loved her and would see her soon. After their goodbye, as I turned her wheelchair, she tried to turn her head and yelled, “Hey! Thanks for coming.” I let Chinel know what she said and we both broke into tears.
I know this gift of her communication and understanding could be fleeting, but I am so very grateful. Grateful that she still knows me and is excited when I come to see her. I am excited that I still have a chance to interact with her with some level of real understanding and that she knows how much I love her. And even when that switch can no longer be turned on, when that light flickers out, I will be grateful for the times that I saw the light shine.