Altered States

Well she used to have a carefree mind of her own and a delicate look in her eye, these days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her name is Veronica. Elvis Costello, Veronica from the album Spike

Mom settled into the routine quicker than I thought she would. She made a sweet friend who always wanted to be with mom even if mom didn’t want her around all the time. It was such a relief to know she wasn’t sitting in her room alone. I had to laugh when mom would get frustrated and tell me that her friend “couldn’t remember shit”. Pot and kettle, mom. I got her set up at the beauty shop so she could get her hair done once a week which made her very happy. She can’t remember when I’m going to be there even though it’s written down all over her room but her hair appointment? She hasn’t missed one in three years.

The residents at mom’s place had varying degrees of dementia and Alzheimer’s and most of them were women. There was one gentleman there who was just lovely; I liked him right away. He knew he couldn’t remember things anymore and he would apologize for it. He loved to make small talk and he had a little dog that he took with him on his long walks in the garden. He planted flowers that he sometimes forgot to water and pulled weeds. He was so calming; I always looked for him first on my way to find mom. He wasn’t that old; maybe somewhere in his 60s or early 70s. His profession had been something to do with nuclear medicine and, from what I was told, he was brilliant. He was still brilliant, just in a different way.

Visiting someone in memory care is like stepping into a different dimension where everyone is living in their own world and occasionally we get a little glimpse of who they used to be. There was a woman whom I loved to talk with because she seemed so normal. She had been a very talented artist and her artwork was hung on every available space in her apartment. She continued to draw and her latest piece was a pencil drawing of a photograph that was taken when she and her brother were little. You could tell by the style of her work that it was the same artist, but now her drawing was just slightly off, almost distorted. Is this the way she sees her world now?

The artist painted a 16x20 picture for my mom which I thought was really sweet. Mom, however, was mortified and weirdly irked. The painting is of a cow in a pasture - mom took it as a message. She believed with every fiber of her being that the artist was telling mom that mom looked like a cow. What?? Why?? I asked her if anything had happened to make her think that was the motivation behind the cow and she couldn’t recall if there was. Of course not.  I tried explaining that it was just a nice painting that the artist wanted mom to have. Oh, no, that’s not it at all. She wanted to put it in the trash but I talked her out of it. Instead, I put it on a shelf high enough for it to be out of her line of sight.

There was another woman there who no longer spoke English. She would follow visitors and ask them something in what sounded like German. Actually, it was a little more than asking; it was pleading, as if she was looking for something or someone she had lost. Her voice was so small that it was hard to hear her and her eyes looked like she was going to cry. I lived in Germany for three years so I know a little of the language. The only words I thought I could make out when she spoke were “please” and “help” and I had to do something - she was breaking my heart. I asked her in German how she was and told her how pretty she looked - her face lit up and she grabbed my hand in both of her tiny hands. I think just hearing words she recognized made her feel better. I wonder who she was before this awful disease locked her away in her past.