Sunday, August 6, 2017

Alzheimers Disease......Sometimes Not being Able to Remember the Past or Worry about the Future is OK

I'm not sure how long I spent crying in the parking lot of a memory care center earlier this week. I just wasn't able to drive home after I visited my college friend of 45 years.  She lives there now in the highest level of memory care they can provide.  The change in her physically was shocking.  No longer remembering to eat or even to feel hunger, she has lost close to 80 pounds.  Nothing and no one can entice her to eat.  Food just isn't interesting to her any more. Six months before she was eating ice cream out of the carton for breakfast in her own home when I stopped to see her.  It made us laugh because we used to do that together in our dorm room. Two spoons and one carton. I was never a big breakfast eater but ice cream worked well for us both. I would give anything to get her to enjoy one bite of ice cream again.

She has her own language now, using a combination of sounds, hand gestures and her eyes to impart her feelings.  It takes some skill to decipher but you can figure out her message if you take the time.  She does not consider it rude if you finish a sentence for her.  Instead she is relieved.  She doesn't like questions because she has no answers.  She doesn't like names because she knows no people.  She doesn't care what was served for lunch, how her clothes fit or who visited her yesterday.  That information is simply not relevant to her any longer.  Instead she vigilantly watches the other residents for subtle signs of distress and is intuitively drawn to help them. All she can do is stand close by and worry her hands but that is how she shows her concern.  She is present with them.  She is in  the moment, no baggage from her past, no memories of being wronged, no resentment toward family or friends and no wishing she were somewhere else.  I was amazed as I watched her interact with simplicity and honesty.

The irony of it was not lost on me, having just come from a session with a counselor where I had dumped a boatload of unresolved feelings, being wronged and wronging others, feeling inadequate and small for not being able to rise above it, not being able to take the high road of forgiveness and open my heart. I have spent a lot of money and countless hours to learn what my friend showed me in 45 minutes. It is simply better when we forget past wrongs.

My friend at Stephens College in Equestrian Class
I met my friend the very first day at Stephens College because our dorm rooms were directly across the hall from one another.  Oddly, the private women's college we attended recruited a small number of women from each state and many foreign countries as a way to expose the students to a myriad of cultural differences.  We both were from small towns in Oregon, had received partial scholarships and student loans and needed to work part-time jobs in order to attend what was considered at the time a very expensive college.  We were accepted for different reasons. She had extremely high SAT scores.  My SAT scores were not as high but I was extremely creative on my college application. We were best friends for 45 years.

She loved to intimidate others with her extensive vocabulary, making it very difficult for me to win a debate or even a game of Scrabble. Her witticism could cut right to the naked truth, painfully accurate and revealing at times but never cruel.  Her cleverly crafted expressions between ideas and unique observations were endlessly entertaining whether we were in class, at a college mixer or flying home to Oregon together for the holidays.  I smiled as I wondered what she would have to say now, living in the highest level of memory care available with others who were no longer able to live on their own.  It would have raised  her sense of humor to a new level, I'm sure. To her the world was a canvas for intellectual amusement and verbal banter was her medium.  Asking a rhetorical question and answering herself with a creative oxymoron was her calling card. Believe me when I say there is a plethora of raw material where she is now.   
My friend in the studio we shared at Stephens college
Crying in the parking lot wasn't because I felt so sorry for my best friend.  Yes, I miss her terribly and I can't imagine what her acerbic wit would say if she could for one second see the craziness going on  around her. The tears were for the beauty and simplicity of the value she was able to find for herself.  Seeing her concern for those she lived with now and her inability to get bogged down with past grievances, I realized that remembering is not always best. She showed me it's better to just be present and not waste one second being regretful of the past or frightened by the future.

Thank you, my friend, for the 45 years of crazy fun we had and thank you, my friend, for the 45 minutes it took you last Wednesday to show me what really matters.  I will see you at breakfast.  Two spoons and one carton.