My mother refused to get out of bed when I visited yesterday after lunch. So I decided to steal another old lady and take her for a walk instead. Please note that names have been changed to protect the innocent :-)
I love this particular woman. Her name is Frances. She is from good old Irish stock with all the simple and clear cut values that come with it. I don’t think she gets many visitors, or at least she says she doesn’t. But it’s hard to tell because she has Alzheimer’s.
We walked to the park just about two hundred feet from the rest home. We sat inside a white gazebo splattered with graffiti and I tried my hardest not to stare at the very graphic images of male body parts. I considered moving so that Frances wouldn’t catch a glimpse, but it became quickly evident she wouldn’t. She was reeling against her life, her situation, her family, and it was all-consuming.
“Why can’t I come and go as I please? I’ve always been my own person, earned my own money. I don’t even know where my money is. Do my brothers and sisters even know I’m here? Why can’t I go for a simple walk alone? I’ve walked alone my entire life.”
I didn’t know what to say. She continued.
“They’ve taken my independence. My daughter has done this to me. She left me here.”
“Frances,” I said. “Your daughter loves you.”
“No she doesn’t! Look at what she did to me!”
And I realized then that Alzheimer’s comes with a script, a common plot, and children are the villains. And to some degree, it is true. Alzheimer’s leaves children with very few options and because of that, we are often typecast as the evil doers. There seems to be no way around it, and believe me, I’ve looked.
But it is not about us, the children, is it? It is about the victims of this disease.
Frances worked in the Worcester Public School System with control of a staff. “Her girls,” she called them. She supported her family without a husband. She made the decisions, propelled her family forward, cleaned up the messes and organized the outcomes. And now here she is, not able to leave a building alone without an alarm sounding off, alerting everyone to the walking ghost of Frances.
As we returned to the rest home, I promised Frances I’d be back tomorrow. She gave me a strong hug for such a wisp of a woman.
“You are a good daughter,” she said.
And I hoped in that moment, Alzheimer’s would transform me into her own child so that she could have a moment of happiness.