Alzheimer's, basketball, daughter, dementia, family, father, March Madness, memories, mother, National World War II Museum, New Orleans, Oregon State University, poetry, Tulane Law School, University of Oregon, University of Washington, writing
I wrote on Monday about the tragedies of Alzheimer’s, which are real and heart-wrenching. But there are moments of humor as well.
Two of our family’s amusing stories occurred in May 2010, not long after my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Several family members had gathered in New Orleans for my daughter’s graduation from Tulane Law School. The day after we all arrived, my father announced that he needed to buy dress shoes.
“I’m the one with dementia,” my mother said, “but he’s the one who forgot to pack his shoes!”
A day or two later, after we had toured the National World War II Museum in New Orleans (which is well worth a visit), some of us were standing at a corner waiting to catch one of the famous streetcars back to our hotel. We waited and waited. No streetcar came. Then my mother pointed at a sign, “Look at that. It says the route is changed.”
And sure enough, because of a parade (there’s always a parade in New Orleans), the streetcar route had changed for the day. None of the rest of us had noticed the sign. We walked back to the hotel in the Louisiana heat and humidity.
A few months after our New Orleans trip, I wrote this poem:
At first, she’s tense when traffic speeds,
An early sign she cannot cope.
We take her hand to cross the street,
It’s just her age and gait, we hope.
Then household chores become too hard,
The daily things she’s done for years.
Forgetfulness and gaffes increase,
And every failure leads to tears.
No longer parent, now she’s child,
Her brain regresses day by day.
Our lives flow on as her mind fades,
The shadows take her far away.
And when our hearts acknowledge loss,
Just as our grief begins to hit,
She smiles and utters a remark
Surprising us with her old wit.
Even now, there are moments when my mother remains who she has always been.
Last week, one of the activities in her assisted living facility was to fill out an NCAA bracket form. My mother has never been a big sports fan, though some other members of the family are. I doubt she has ever filled out an NCAA bracket before in her life.
She graduated from the University of Oregon. My father and two siblings have undergraduate degrees from the University of Washington, and my brother got his medical degree there also. My father’s graduate degrees are from Oregon State University. So we have some school rivalry between various members of the family.
Whenever anyone at home watched a game on television featuring the University of Oregon, my mother rooted for the Ducks. When she filled out her NCAA bracket last week, she showed the Ducks winning it all.
And you know what? Those Ducks have made it to the Sweet Sixteen – better than most of the teams my non-demented family members picked.