Tag Archives: alzheimer’s

I know you’re on the inside . . . lookin’ out.

Many years ago, I found a picture of my godfather giving me a gift.

Papa Danny

It’s weird, because it isn’t a book.  He and his wife always gave me books.  She was a librarian, he was a teacher.  The book I most remember, because I read it roughly 50,000 times, and because I still own it today, its edges worn and frayed, its hard cover that maybe used to be black now some sort of greenish-grey, was Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic.

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The Red Shoes of Alzheimer’s; or, Listen with your nose.

The first time I saw them put the belt on Mde. P, I was shocked…maybe even incensed.  They were all sitting down to dinner, and one of the aide soignantes (I’m pretty sure the equivalent of LPN) looked at me apologetically.  “When her husband’s not here, she won’t sit still.”  Sure enough, even with the belt holding her to her chair, Mde. P tried to get up.  Over the months I’ve been there, I’ve seen her so determined to get up, she literally walks with the chair attached to her, like a turtle with its shell weighing it down.

It’s the sickness.  It makes them unable to stop moving.  There’s this fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen called “The Red Shoes.”  It’s about this girl, and for reasons I won’t go into here (don’t want to spoil it) her feet begin to dance, independent of her will. No matter what she does, she can’t stop dancing. Mde. P doesn’t remind me of her character, mind.  It’s just that when I see her, or Mde. H, who moves large arm chairs across the building incessantly, so that we’re always finding an arm chair in the strangest places, or M. D, who shuffles about, walking circles around the corridor, not looking like he has a place to go, maybe because he realizes he doesn’t – I’m reminded of the story.

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Learning to forget

Mme. R used to sit at the same table as M. D, before they moved her to Mme. H’s table.  She and I get along generally, but my heart really went out to her when I learned that she had once been a physics researcher at Sorbonne.  Like so many people at Nazareth, the retirement home where I volunteer a couple of times a week at supper, Mme. R once had a beautiful mind.

It’s a bit like being an athlete who becomes paralyzed.  Only it’s somehow just a little sadder for me – and I mean no disrespect to anyone dealing with debilitations purely physical in nature – but we all know that our bodies have a use-by date.  We hope that our minds only grow more refined with age.  Sure, we become a little forgetful, but we get wise, and that is ample compensation for a little absent-mindedness.

At Nazareth I’m surrounded by former teachers, head mistresses, university professors and researchers.   I don’t consider myself a particularly intelligent person, but I’m sure that the loss of my reason, logic and memory would make me more than a little grumpy.  “Be careful with Mme. R,” Mme. D told me when she saw that we got along well.  “She can be very nasty sometimes.”

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The weight of the weather upon us

For most of the time I lived in London, I worked in hostels with young people.  All of them were without a fixed address for some reason or another when they came to us.  Some were fleeing violence in their countries of origin, trying to get their status fixed as refugees and asylum-seekers.  Some were just coming out of prison, or had just come from care homes (modern-day orphanages for the bigger kids).  Some had been rough sleeping, or spending a few days on one couch and a week on another, carrying everything they owned in a backpack now tearing at its seams.  As I’ve written before, it’s never not complicated.

At any rate, there we were, staff and young people, under one roof, which was now some sort of abode.  For some of them, I know it was terrible.  For others, I think it might have been the safest place they’d ever laid their heads at night.  Everybody’s experience is different.  And all of them were different from one another.  There were young men and young women.  There were people of all ethnic backgrounds, all religions.  And while they all fell into one age category (16-25), let me tell you:  there’s a mighty big difference between 16 and 25.  About the only thing they had in common was that life had gotten really hard, really early on.

But for all the many differences among the young people living there, there were two more things they shared:  the roof over their head, and their postal code.  That last one meant a lot of things, but for purposes of this post, it meant that they shared something that affects us all so profoundly:  weather.

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