Thursday, August 3, 2017

Gummy and a Picture of Dementia

If you noticed I wore my top inside out all day today, thank you for not saying a word. At some point in the afternoon I noticed the tag jutting out. 

Part of me is surprised that Gummy didn't notice. She's always been a detail person. Plus, although she always says it with humor and love, she adores pointing out everyone's mistakes. 

Visiting with Gummy isn't on my agenda. I'm helping hubby prep for a last minute trip to Asia. I'm planning to cook him sandwiches or something thoughtfully domestic like that, so I have to go to one of those grocery store places. But when I attempt to drive past memory care, my Jeep automatically turns in. It's a gorgeous sunny day. I know she's sitting in there worrying. 

There's nothing I can do to stop that. All I, or anyone, can do to help is give her a short recess from it. It's humid and warm outside but also in memory care. That's how the residents like it. In fact Gummy is sitting at a table up front wearing a mint green jacket with diamond buttons. It has pink cuffs and fringe. It's very Lisa Frank. I have no idea where it came from, but she wears it often.

     Hey, Gummy-Gummy! Wanna go outside and play?
She lights up.
     Hi, Girl! How'd you know where I was?
I try to avoid that question. It always turns into a conversation that gets us about as far as a hamster on his wheel.
     It's gorgeous outside, nice and sunny. We could go look at all the flowers?

It takes a long time to get outside. There's the walk to the elevator, then through the building. Outside I stick close until we get to the gazebo and she sits down. After a few moments of comments on the sunflowers, she goes silent. I follow suit while she watches birds and geese. Then she starts to talk. 

I've been taking pictures of everything. Every. Thing. I look at those pictures later and I can't remember taking them...I try but I can't. I don't remember when it happened or where I was. I have pictures of my grand-kids, but I don't remember when I took those. I don't remember being those places. I don't remember any of it.

While she says this she's holding my gaze the whole time, leaning forward, focused on telling me this. I know she's not taking pictures of anything. Those days are long past. She's trying to tell me something. She's losing her words, but long before that started she lost the ability to say exactly what she means. Still, she tends to be in the neighborhood of what she means when she talks. 

I try to listen and puzzle it out.

It's not much more cryptic than old poetry.


I think I know what she's trying to say. What I hear is that she's trying so hard to remember that she's looking at each thing and trying to hold onto it. As though she's taking pictures in her mind to examine later. Even then she can't hold onto it. What I hear is her telling me she's focusing, and trying and failing to remember, and it's not fair.

What I hear is a question. I'm trying. It's not working. What am I supposed to do?

The pictures of her grand-kids she's referring to are ones they gave her. She didn't take them. They're trying to help her remember them by providing pictures. It works sometimes. In fact she tells me the names of the kids as she repeats her words a second time, so I know those pictures are working that way. Still, like everything does now, they're confusing her too.

After she finishes a second time we're quiet while I think. I don't have an answer. I don't say you'll be okay, or everything will be all right. Those are lies. I happen to believe the greater bulk of women know when another one is lying to them. We'll rarely be confrontational about it, but we know. My mother-in-law knows when I lie to her. As cloudy as she is, I see it in her eyes. 

While we sit like this I don't know if she knows who I am. Often she knows I'm her daughter-in-law, but I never quiz her. Not being able to recall someone's name is stressful for all of us. Every conscious moment of her day is that multiplied by all the nanoseconds in a day. I see no reason to berate her about it. 

Now and then I've seen caregivers giving their loved ones grief.
     I've told you six times! Pay attention.
It makes me sad for both of them. If Gummy had a spinal injury with legs that wouldn't work, would I say, "I've asked you six times to move your legs! Focus!" There's no difference.

They cannot remember. All the focus in the world can't move past brain synapses that are gone.

Occasionally though, a little peace and mental stimulation can help them find a rare functional synapses. There doesn't seem to be any way to force that though. 

Eventually I tell Gummy that the photographs of grandchildren are ones they gave her and she didn't take them, so that's why she doesn't remember those.
     Did they? Nobody told me
     I see how hard you're trying hard to remember things.The whole family knows how hard you try.
There are so many other things I want to say, but each of them is a landmine, confusing, or an outright lie like she's going to be okay, or get better. So I pull out my phone and show her a video I took from a hot air balloon. 

Last Christmas I gave a hot air balloon ride to my kids and Gummy for this summer. At the time I thought it'd be doable for her. It seems decades ago. Despite dementia Gummy likes phone photos, FaceTime and Snapchat very much.
     See the shadow of the hot air balloon in the video?
     It looks like a heart.
     See the way it skims over the tree tops? Sometimes the basket touches the leaves. It felt like a flying dream. 
Her eyebrows pull together.
     Haven't you ever had a flying dream, Gummy? Sometimes I dream I can jump up and fly over the trees.
     I think my friend Effie told me about those. I think I do have those. I think I remember doing that.
I don't know Gummy's friend Effie. But the name is familiar. Something I heard long ago. 

Gummy watches the hot air balloon video a couple of times. It's just treetops as the basket floats over them, occasionally brushing them. Then we go back into the building and face the short but difficult trek for Gummy back to her room. I glance at the stairs. It's so close that way.
     Do you want to try to take the stairs, Gummy?
She's started physical therapy to build strength. Last week she forgot how to walk. But I'm strong enough to catch her and she seems alert right now. She's eyeballing the two short flights.
     I haven't done that in a long time, but I can.
And so she does. At the top she doesn't even huff like she did walking out.

Back in her room I get her a Pepsi, her favorite. She sits down to watch television.
     I'll see you the day after tomorrow, Gummy.
     I won't be here. I'm going home. 
     Okay. I'll call first. I love you. Bye.
     I love you too. Bye, Saffi.

She remembered my name. 

I'm pretty sure it was the flying dream that helped her do that.



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