Here's one family that really makes the best of Alzheimer's!
Robert Leleux's grandmother is a larger-than-life figure, a beautiful, quick-witted, Texan Mame-type whom the author dotes upon, and whose Alzheimer's diagnosis feels particularly cruel. Leleux reflects on her stoicism:
'Sad lives make funny people,' she told me when I was 16. At the time, this remark had just sounded like one more zinger. But eventually I came to consider it the distillation of her philosophy. Humor was the way she had coped with every unpleasant thing in her life, from her long estrangement from my mother, her only child, to the onset of a crippling disease.
The product of one of those insular, Reaganesque marriages whose passion leaves little room for anyone else - particularly children - Leleux's mother hasn't spoken to her parents in years. And despite the tragedy of the diagnosis, her mother's illness makes a reconciliation possible. Leleux explains it thusly:
Imagine: to be freed from your memory, to have every awful thing that ever happened to you wiped away - and not just your past, but your worries about the future, too. Because with no sense of time or memory, past and future cease to exist, along with all sense of loss and regret. Not to mention grudges and hurt feelings, arguments and embarrassments...And that's the fantasy, isn't it? To have your record cleared. To be able not to merely forget, but to expunge your unhappy childhood, or unrequited love, or rocky marriage from your memory. To start over again.
The reconciliation is kinder, gentler and warmer than any interaction mother and daughter have ever had. As Leleux and his mother are leaving, his grandmother says,
'Thank you for coming, Jessica. I want you to know how much it means to me. I want you to know that I know we've never been close. And I know that's been mostly my fault. I'm not sure how much time I've got. But more than anything, I want to have a shot at spending it with you. It's so important. I mean, after all, Jessica, we're sisters.'...I groaned, then looked over to see my tough mother crying. 'Close enough, Mama,' she said.
To anyone who's read Leleux's memoir, Beautiful Boy, the riotous tone and outsize characters of the essay will feel familiar. To anyone who's dealt with the injustice, the tragedy, the dark comedy and the poignancy of Altheimers, so will its content. While it may seem optimistic to call the manifold indignities of Alzheimer's a blessing (Leleux admits openly that "I've always preferred fairy tales to literal truth") it's also true that one hears these stories of softening and reconciliation as frequently as one does those of anger, frustration, and deep sadness.(Some of this surely has to do with age; it is a lot harder to be philosophical when one is struck down with early-onset, methinks.) By story's end, one can't help thinking of the author's grandfather, who he says is bereft; surely this "glass is half full" approach doesn't reconcile him to the loss of a companion. And does such a reconciliation "count" when you're no longer dealing with the person who wronged you? For once, let's take Leleux's "fairy tale" approach: why not?
A Memory Magically Interrupted [NY Times]