A little while ago it came to my attention that someone very close to me has Alzheimer’s.
People went to great lengths to tell me how difficult she is and how aggressive she can get when she loses her bearings and demands the type of independence that she’s been used to her entire life.
I was to ferry her from New York to my grandmother’s memorial and I’m ashamed to say that I looked towards that day as an unwanted chore. I huffed and puffed like a child told to take out the garbage during his favorite television show.
I hadn’t seen great aunt in a few years. When I picked her up she looked older than anything I’d ever seen, her skin like crumpled wax paper. I was afraid she wouldn’t know who I was.
Giving my vanity a boot in the ass, she did.
She repeated questions, forgetting that I live in Brooklyn and wondering over and over how I could bear the two hour train ride north every night. I could feel myself losing my patience. Was I actually annoyed? Or was I bothered that I was bothered?
Every so often she’d remember something from twenty years ago. When we stayed in the past, things ran smoothly. She’d taught me how to play poker when I was barely five. She taught me how to see truth in someone’s smile, or a lie in their eyes. We talked about the first time I visited the city, the circus, the fire truck and those novelty glasses.
Those small moments of nostalgic bliss were short and seldom. To be taken out of time like that is a cruel fate. I felt as though people blamed her for it, like it was her fault she couldn’t remember and not that silent disease building walls in her brain.
I read recently that none of Estelle Getty’s cast members from Golden Girls attended her funeral. Some saying that she’d already died when the dementia took her over, that she wasn’t the same person. What a load of shit. People so afflicted are simply walking reminders of an end we’re more scared of than death, and we avoid them because it’s the easy, cowardly thing to do.
I’m earnestly hoping I’ll develop a brave streak.