Daffodils and Dementia
My mother gardened. Her crocuses were the first to appear in the spring, followed by daffodils, tulips and exuberantly colored swaths of azaleas. Pink and white dogwoods created a pastel canopy in the wooded backyard. Last week, she called Jane, a friend of more than 30 years. The call sounded urgent; Jane quickly drove over. My mother had written “over there” on a piece of paper. Pointing “over there,” she asked: “What are those?” “Daffodils,” was the reply. When asked, Jane spelled the word, as my mother slowly wrote it down. Then the process was repeated with azaleas, and another flower. My mother was desperately trying to keep the images and the words alive. If she wrote them down, perhaps the memories would remain, just a little longer.
We first noticed personality changes about two years ago. We’ve since been through the car wreck — my mother still suffers back pain but, fortunately no one else was injured or killed. Mercifully, she couldn’t pass the driving test, blaming her failure on the test giver. Her cell phone is said to be inhabited by “goblins and grinches” who steal from her home, while the house itself is haunted. She must feel very afraid. We’ve offered to live with her, to keep her company and take care of household chores but, wanting her independence and perhaps being afraid to admit that anything’s wrong, she resists. No one will actually utter the dreaded “A” word.
My mother called about a week ago, uncharacteristically early in the morning, to wish Pajamadeen a happy birthday. The only problem was, Pajamadeen’s birthday wasn’t for another week. Apparently, she’s too confused to remember when her first child was born. In the interim, she fell and broke her right kneecap and is now in rehab. Today was my birthday. A call came early, from another of her friends, who said my mother would call later in the day on her cell phone. No call came. But that’s okay; we know she tried desperately, in her own way, to reach out for my birthday.
We called relatives, to let them know where my mother was, saving the best for last. It’s funny what golden snippets of memories a person will treasure from childhood. One such moment for me was when Cousin Richard took me to see Old Yeller. He was 17; I was a blonde, pigtailed six-year-old. It must have been a chore for him, to give up an afternoon of fun with friends for a six-year-old pipsqueak. But, he did so cheerfully. To me, he was a God at the time: a tall, athletic, crew cut hunk. (Little did he know what some six-year-olds think.) When I told him about my mother’s fall and how things were going, he said that his family had gone through a similar situation described as being heartbreaking and demanding, with no happy ending of course.
A definining moment for Richard came when he found himself alone in a room with his father-in-law, Bill. Not until that moment did it become clear that Bill had lost all memories of his wife and family who filled the house. He looked at Richard and said: “It’s so hard, you know. Remembering all these names.”
Goodbye to philodendron and the other houseplants. Goodbye to gaily colored zinnias, cleome and tomato plants. And birthdays. As T. S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land:
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.”
Read more medical news about Alzheimer’s disease and Aricept, a medicine used to treat memory loss.
Photo credit: teachwithmovies.org / Walt Disney
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