Love in the Time of Alzheimer's

It creeps in slowly and tactfully, systematically erasing the images and memories that make up the scrapbook of your life.

It floods your foundation causing deep cracks and crevices and it crawls into the well lit tunnels that send messages that guide you in how to chew, swallow, speak, walk and think and it darkens them with its filthy dirt.

It confuses, mystifies and destroys. It holds you hostage and when your loved ones try to free you, it throws you into solitary confinement - no trial, no jury, just a corrupt judge, hammer down on an iron table.

Yet day in, day out, they return hoping to find a trace of you.

They need to do something that makes them feel like they are doing something. So they brush your hair, rub lotion on your arms and back, buy you new slippers. They nurture and nourish you with your favourite food that they prepare when they return home because they can't sleep and they need to feel like they are doing something, anything that may make a difference - perhaps bring back a speck of memory or a smile to your face.

There are others - so many others. Some are bedridden, others are mobile. Family members are worn yet they draw alliances; together they speak of what was and they share their anger, their sorrow over cups of coffee in a stale lit room at the end of the hall.

They look for signs - a gesture, a shift in the eyes, a blink, a whisper, a deep breath. They would give years of their lives for one day with you.

But they won't get that day because Alzheimer's robs minds, souls, life and all of its treasures. It takes husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers.

It's a professional heist in an art gallery filled with beautiful, precious, adorned paintings. Entire canvasses are removed, trimmed and rolled up leaving nothing but the frame.

It's a daily battle between two sides - one conquers while the other vanishes. It's a family photo that fades like a curtain in the sun and there is no restoration.

Alzheimer's is everyones enemy.

It's an enemy in waiting.

And every soul it takes is one soul too many.

Alzheimer's is a THIEF.

Change of Seasons - Give me a break will ya - that and a palm tree

This change of Seasons is always a shock to the system. I mean really, give me a break! I can't get out of bed in the morning. I want to eat everything in the kitchen including the fridge and stove. I am homesick. I want to move back in with my parents and play in the park with my friends and come in for a nice, warm dinner that I didn't have to prepare.

I want recess. I demand milk, cookies and my flannel blanket for 30 minutes per day as a break from my work. I want to be 15 and have a boyfriend who is 17. I want him to "neck" with me and let me wear his jacket.

I want to skip class and have a crush on one of my teachers. I want to see that teacher in the grocery store and be amazed that he goes to a grocery store and he is human and he exists outside of school. I want to call my friends and talk on the phone for hours because the phone is all we have. I want to see my friends instead of texting them. I want a slumber party where everyone sleeps at a house other than mine. I want us to make popcorn and smoke my grandfather's pipe and call our favourite boys and hang up because their is no caller ID.

I want to know why it's so dark out so much earlier and why we change the time - I mean really, isn't life difficult enough?

I want to understand why on earth I live in a freezing cold climate. I know I will be asking myself this during the first snowstorm when I am wet and freezing and tired of snow banks and ice and looking like I have turned a new shade of green.

I want soup. I mean real homemade chicken soup with chicken and stuff that is real.

I want a heated, covered dome thing that I can walk my dog under in the wiinter.

I want to get up quickly when I go flying on my behind on the ice so that the people passing in their cars who have witnessed this occurance; know that I am alright and that when I fall, I get back up (and this is way too long a sentence).

Do you remember walking home after playing at a friends house and it was late winter and the sky was a solid, slick blue? As you made your way past the many doors to yours, you could smell the commingling (word?) of everyone's meals.

My mother was and still is a great cook. I would walk into the vestibule and crispy honey chicken with roasted potatoes would call me to the table. We would all sit together, eat, talk, argue, laugh and looking back, I am saddened by the stark reality that we will never all be together again - the 5 of us.

Be brave my fellow Montrealers - Grab your soup, your slippers and your blanket and drift gently into the falling snow that is about to kick you in the ass.

Running with Ghosts

I am moved. I went for a run. The rain was falling hard. I came around a corner and noticed an older woman running toward me. She ran with grace and approached me with a big smile and asked if we could run together for a while. I responded yes although I prefer to run alone. The thing was she resembled my late Grandmother and something about her rendered me curiously confused.

I only saw my Grandmother standing up right at the very beginning of my life. Shortly thereafter she started to fall when walking and experience tingles and numbness in her joints. She was diagnosed (as her late brother whom she nursed until his death) with Multiple Sclerosis, a merciless debilitating and unrelenting illness. It wasn't long before she lost the use of her legs and then her arms and all of her movement from the neck down surrendered to its wickedness.

She spent over 40 years laying in a hospital bed unable to move. I'd ask if you can imagine that but you can't. She passed away from complications of pneumonia and I thanked God for that pneumonia - it was the gift she had been waiting for - the way out.

So here I was on an early morning run with what seemed to be her ghost or spirit. My new friends name was Joy and she had recently beat Cancer for a second time although she commented "Next time - I won't be so lucky". She spoke of her husband who had passed away suddenly on a business trip not allowing for her to say good bye. She had one child, a son about my age who had never married and lived with a 14 yr old Labrador Retriever named Annie. She could no longer walk and the Vet had suggested to Nate (her son) that he put Annie down but he refused to do so. Every day he carried Annie outside to do her business and every night he lifted her into his bed to lay beside him as she had since puppy hood. He worked from home and didn't have many friends. Annie was the closest to him of anyone and he just couldn't let her go.

Two years ago Joy was right back where she started fighting her second battle - Cancer had returned now to her other breast. She went for surgery and treatment, this time she asked her son for comfort and support as she knew she was not as young or strong as the first time. He had moved her into his house. There were no stairs and he made his living room into her bedroom. There was an adjacent bathroom and he was there most of the day so she felt safe. He would place Annie on the floor by his mother's bed whenever he left the house. "Watch out for her" he would say to Annie and Joy would think "If she is watching out for me, I must be in really bad shape". She hadn't lost her sense of humour and here she was running with me stronger than ever.

When she spoke I heard my Grandmother's voice coming through her. Joy's eyes were my Grandmothers eyes and they were drinking me in, deeper and deeper to the point that I felt my Grandmother all around me.

She thanked me for having her along on the run and just when I thought of making plans to meet with her again, she was gone. I looked down the road, across the way, but she had vanished almost as suddenly as she had appeared.

It was like when you dream about someone who has passed on. They come to you and they talk to you, hang out, as if they are really there. Then you wake up and you wish you could have grabbed onto them and held them so that they could not leave or not be taken but that isn't the way it goes.

I walked home and I thought of Joy and Annie and Nate. I thought of my Grandmother and I wondered if meeting Joy had been a gift? Why had she been running in the same place and at the same time as me? Why did she resemble my Grandmother so and why was she such a fighter - survivor? Why had Cancer visited her twice? Why had her husband been taken from his young wife and son?

I couldn't answer any one of those questions but I had to ask them.

People come and go in our lives. They leave us with all sorts of images and memories. Maybe seeing my Grandmother suffer and have to live such a hellish existence, a punishment not warranted, a jail sentence without trial, made me "keep the hope" that she found a better place. A place of peace and comfort and dignity. A place that she so deserved to be during her time on this earth.

I hope that Joy remains well. I hope that Annie goes easily and painlessly and I hope that Nate finds the strength and courage to let her go.

I hope that anyone reading this who is sick and suffering finds a memory, a really wonderful one and relishes in it long enough to escape their pain.

I hope that if they leave this world, they return every now and then in spirit - suddenly appearing around a bend looking for someone who runs with ghosts.