You will die with Alzheimer’s

He was pale. His brow was damp. His blue eyes looked more blue for the tightening of his pupils. The Tardive Dyskenesia made his jaw cock side to side and his fingers drum rapidly. I could barely stand the sound of his dry tongue in his mouth, a response to heavy anti-depressants. For many, many months doctors and therapists had claimed, “severe depression,” but today someone finally said, “your dad has Alzheimer’s.”

The neurologist also said, “you won’t die of Alzheimer’s, you will die with Alzheimer’s. Our patients generally die of pneumonia when they become too sick to get out of bed.” He said “here is some literature,” and “come see me in two months.” He did not say, “I am sorry,” or “I know this is hard to hear.” He left the room. The silent neurology resident followed him like a strange lamb observing how flocks are slaughtered.

We drove home listening to the Beatles. I asked him if he recalled hearing them for the first time. He did. “Did they sound like something new?” He said they sounded “happy.” The first time he heard them was after returning from Japan. He was stationed in Okinawa as a Navy doc during the Vietnam War. “Will you write down your other stories for me?” Sure. “The Harry the Hat stories, and the one about canned peaches at your aunt’s house?” Sure. “And that bully you punched?” Yes. We laughed. He put his hand on my arm. He said, “I am sorry; I know this is hard for you.” He always said the right thing at the right time. I have never known another human who finds such ease in others’ feelings.

I took him home. He told mom. She did not cry. He reached out his hand to her. She sat, teacup in one hand and his hand in the other, disappearing into her oversized floral chair. He bent to hug her. I took the teacup. Her long, lean arms slung around him. I crept away. More tea.

I peeked in from the kitchen many minutes, but not a word, later. They had moved to the couch where he could lean on her. She was in the sun. He was in the dark, split into slats by thin bands of light creeping through the wooden shudders. I brought toast with too much butter like he liked it, like she complained about, and three fresh cups of tea. We said nothing I can recall. I haven’t decided yet if memory means more, or less, as of that day.

Then he got up to call his son. A credit to what the disease had not yet touched, he made up an excuse to get off the phone within minutes of delivering the news. He paused in the hall. When he returned to us, the room was dark.

“I need somewhere to collapse.” My mom and I stood, sweeping books and laundry from the couch, making way for him. “No; I don’t want to lay down.” He leaned toward me. I recalled suffocating my tears into his shoulder the first time he took me to hear the orchestra. His shoulders now slumped and subtly shook. Crying overtly would be a disservice to our forty-year history of just gently holding on.

He sat down, finally, like a child with both arms hanging between his knees. He put into words what most of us say with tears. He said, “I feel heavy things falling down on me.”

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2 thoughts on “You will die with Alzheimer’s

  1. Mona says:

    Shawna,

    It sucks…

    By the time my mother got her dementia diagnosis (FTD with PPA), she was too far in to understand it.

    I really don’t know what would me more heartbreaking. It just sucks.

    Like

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