Yes, I’m crying. Yes, I’m posting the photo here, because the reason I’m crying is an important one. The true face of Alzheimer’s joined me on my walk today. It was a gentle entrance, but one that will leave a lasting impact.
I walked to the mall and on my way home a sweet lady asked me where the nearest medical clinic was. While giving her directions, she seemed overwhelmed so I told her I’d walk to the clinic with her. On our walk, she told me she had Alzheimer’s and forgets things easily. As we walked, she told me her name, (Mary, but she prefers Marie because there are already too many Marys) and that she was from Scotland.
She told me about her grumpy daughter and her helpful son. She told me about her life before Alzheimer’s took away her memory. She told me jokes, sang a song to me called, “I Once Had a Dear Old Mother”. She told me why she needed to go to the clinic. She showed me her crazy loud finger whistle and that she could whistle just as well with her thumbs! She could tell me many things, but had already forgotten where we were walking.
At this point I realized the clinic would probably not see her without family but we went anyways and waited a half hour to see the doctor. She realized she didn’t have her phone with her after searching everywhere so we couldn’t call family. There, I could come in with her and explained the situation. He told me a family member needed to come along and that he could not treat her today as he didn’t know exactly what she needed (and she told me four different reasons by then) and sent us on our way.
Mary said she knew how to get home from the mall and invited me to have a tea with her at McDonald’s. She said everyone knew her at the mall because she went there every day. She walks from home to the mall the same route so it’s now in her long-term memory so she can remember it. At McDonald’s the girls all called her by name, she waved hello at a male friend on the bench and we ordered our tea.
At one point when she was coming back to the table she didn’t recognize me and asked if we were sitting together. I explained how our afternoon had gone. She told me her phone number which happened to be the same as her daughter’s so I phoned her and told her I was sitting with her mother at the mall and would wait until she came to get her as I wanted to ensure she made it home safely. No thank yous…daughter asked to speak to her mom. She wasn’t coming to get her. Mary cried after she got off the phone with her daughter. She could not remember her son’s phone number. She has a GPS tracking bracelet that he monitors her movements with though and when not working, he is very helpful with his mom.
After digesting the fact that her own young adult daughter was not coming to get her mother I told Mary that I’d walk home with her as it was on my way home (she had explained where she lived earlier in the walk). We talked some more while we drank tea, she was witty, she spoke about how she was as a young lady in Scotland. Her words explained to me that she was feisty – and still is! She is kind, sweet, confused, friendly, chatty, and so starved for human connection. She was thankful to have someone to talk with and spend time with.
I told her she was expected at home and we began walking that direction. She told me that she really liked me and that she doesn’t give out a compliment like that often. She asked why we were walking together. She asked how she got to the mall. She’d completely forgotten she didn’t have her cell phone and that we’d been to a medical clinic together. I walked her to her door; her daughter came out, and rolled her eyes as I explained that I walked home with Mary as it was on my way home and I wanted to make sure she got there safely. I also told her about the clinic and how Mary and I had been together for a few hours. I was greeted with more eye rolls and no warmth whatsoever. There was no thank you, nothing. I don’t live with someone with Alzheimer’s so I am sure it’s complicated and difficult. But I do know that my uncle has Alzheimer’s and he is treated with love and compassion and is well taken care of…which is not what I was seeing here.
I thought about what kind of a life Mary must have now. The not remembering. The dependence on others. The impatience of caregivers. The losing of the memories. The loss of short term memory. The difficulty going somewhere new. The scary feelings. The nervous feeling she told me about when she knows she should remember something but doesn’t. Her shaking hands. Her feeling stupid because she doesn’t remember like she should. The way some people treat her, even family. The sadness she feels. How she holds onto the pride she felt when she once drove a huge bus to Arizona and the whole group made it there alive.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay there with Mary. I wanted to protect her and make her feel loved and needed and appreciated. Mary smiled and I gave her the biggest hug and told her what a lovely afternoon I’d had. As I walked away, leaving her with her daughter, I burst into tears and cried all the way home…25 minutes, I cried. I’m still crying as I write this. Mary won’t remember me. Mary won’t remember the talk we had, why she went to the clinic or that she went to the clinic at all, or that we spent three hours together this afternoon. Mary won’t remember…but I WILL.