Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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Before he developed Alzheimer’s, my grandfather was stern and taciturn, but after the plaque started to build up around his synapses, he turned into a different man, and in many ways a better one. He started to laugh at things, like the way one of our pigs would chew bubble gum, or how the barn kittens played in the hay.
Scuba diving, a Mickey Mouse watch, half a loaf of warm bread
People think that crazy is achieved when one day the gale-force wind makes a final, violent tear, and your little craft slips its mooring. Oh, no. It is achieved by you, who, one knot at a time, untie the tethers, whimsically at first, and then with some — or sometimes no known — purpose.
Isabel is ninety-one and stands about four and a half feet tall. She has blue-gray eyes, a gray mustache, and four gray hairs below her lower lip. I often see her wandering the corridors of the dementia unit in the nursing home where I work as a chaplain.
I was driving my mother from my sister Sue’s house to my own home last June when she said, “Sue has been my daughter her whole life. Why don’t I know her mother?”
Over the course of two years I photographed my grandmother Marjorie Clarke on my weekly visits to her home in rural Butler, Maryland. With her health declining and Alzheimer’s disease loosening her ties to everyday reality, I spent much of my time reading aloud or singing songs to her, attempting to hold her attention as long as possible.
One day my mother was at the hairdresser’s, sitting under the dryer with an array of tinfoil antennae in her hair and a magazine open in her lap, when she noticed that the woman under the next dryer was staring at her. The woman whispered tentatively, “Are you Mrs. Davis?”
One of the uncomfortable things about living with a person who suffers from Alzheimer’s is that it makes you confront your own character flaws.
A cancer diagnosis, a positive pregnancy test, one last Sabbath dinner together