I'm in a room at some funeral parlor. My grandmom is in the casket (not looking like Lena Horne). I don't really know where I am. It is a strange place. Lots of 70's wood paneling. A dirge is playing but it is a cross of Elton John's Funeral for a Friend and In the Garden of Eden by Iron Butterfly.
There is no familiar face in the crowd of people in this room around the coffin. I start looking looking for my mom asking these people in weird 30's Lauren Bacall hats if my mother was here or if she had died too.
Then I saw my mother in the back of the room the exact same way she looked in 1975. That afro that not even Atlas could carry on his neck. And she is wearing a long white robe. I asked her if she was dead.
She shrugs and says "Don't ask me, girl...this is YOUR dream...not mine...." She reaches out to touch me...
I bolt straight up in bed and let out a shout MOM!. And there is my mom for REAL at the end of the bed in her white nightgown. I had left my door open and she has a tendency to wander, which is why the childproof locks are everywhere in my sister's home outside of Seattle.
She looks horribly frightened from the awakening. If she was there I mean really there? She would have of course known that I used to walk in my sleep...talk and comprehend in my sleep...and now the things that happen around me while sleeping are part and parcel components in my dreams.
Are you okay?
It was the first real words she had spoken to me the entire trip. It made me tear up.
Yes Mamma, I'm okay. I try to joke. Well I'm okay NOW!
She smiles weakly. She is just standing there. The second family member hit with Alzheimer's. I scoot to the end of the bed. The barrage of medications has made her hands puffy. It's three in the morning.
I hold her hand for thirty minutes. She keeps saying if I'm okay. It's breaking my heart. Finally I get up and we look out of the window. Then she slowly goes into the bathroom.
She is soaking wet.
I pull up her white robe and take her diaper off and change her...taking the soppy diaper and grabbing a fresh one. I take a warm cloth and wipe her down...then a dry one. I tell her to lift one leg slowly in...then the other and I pull them up for her. She looks down at me. She has no idea who I am.
You are a nice person. She says. It is impossible not to cry. I just look at her and smile and say YAY!
And she laughs. That is all I ever cared about. Making my mom laugh. She's gone through so much. So damn much over the years. A single parent. The stress of things that were out of control by the time I left home.
Only to spend her final years with no grasp of what is going on. How unfair. How horribly wrong and unfair. It is impossible not to cry. It is almost impossible to find something even funny with it.
When she was diagnosed (ironically enough as she was taking care of my grandmom in the middle stages) I flew home and I was the one who had to tell her she failed all of her tests at Northwestern Hospital. We are at my uncle's. I tell her "I just don't fly all the way from San Francisco just to say hello you know"
She laughed. Then I told her. She just broke down crying. All three of us girls like moths to the fire gathered around her. we are all holding her and then she pops up from nowhere just stopped crying and belted: TAKE ME TO VEGAS!
What was she talking about? Hey. Sounds like a set up to me. I'll bite.
Me: Why Vegas Mom?
Her: Because if I'm going to lose my mind? I'm going to lose my money too!
The Northwestern Visit with the entire family. all of us squeezed into the room. The decision of her heading to Seattle. The crying from the family. I just sort of sat there pretty numb.
Afterwards, There is all sorts of OH LORDS...and overt sobbing. Everyone is walking ahead sort of comforting each other. My mom, who is walking behind everyone comes up to me lagging behind.
Her: Hey baby
Her: Know what the great thing is about Alzheimer's.
Me: (this is a setup) No mom, what is the great thing about Alzheimer's?
Her: I won't remember any of this shit next year.
I put my mother back in bed, making sure the bed is not wet. It's four in the morning in my sisters beautiful home outside of Seattle. She keeps telling me what a nice person I am. Very little words. Just over and over again "You are a nice person" She says it to my sister Angel too. So do I, because if anyone should be getting an honorary patron saint award for everything she has done? This would be Angel. Amazing. She has lived up to her namesake. I have only changed my mother once. She has done it every day...day after day for years.
In an email today, Angel sends me this incredible link from the Journal of Neuroinflammation It is a study only in research stages, but it seems there is progress in giving patients with Alzheimer a shot that reverses the effects of the disease.
It is so hopeful. I send Angel an email back: How do we sign her up and how much do I pay to take her there.
I'm not joking.
I'm not joking because I would like to have her get this shot. Then, like the so appropriate observation of the family who were the first to try this shot, be like a Science Fiction Movie and her magically becoming aware of her surroundings and say something wonderfully witty.
Something like: So, what did I miss? Is that asshole Bush still in office? Did I win any money in Vegas? You didn't TAKE me? Well, THAT is the last time I entrust you with the very simple request of....
I'm not joking. Because I want the joking to come back.
Causes Shaun Landry Supports
The Alzheimer's Foundation, NAACP, Breast Cancer Foundation, Gilda's Club.