Wednesday, August 13, 2008

D Is For Dementia

Darkness Encroaches On The Human Mind

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


He was about a month away from his fourth birthday. He and his older sister were in the back of the car as their father drove them home late on a spring evening when the cherry trees were in full bloom. It was as if Nature was saluting the little boy’s grandmother, for it was her birthday.

The two children had spent the evening with their grandmother. They had taken her a cake, they had sung to her and they had cut the cake for her, because there was very little she could do for herself now, since Alzheimer’s had steadily eroded the power of her considerable brain.

More than four years earlier, when one of her sons flew halfway round the world to see her, she embraced him warmly, with a bright smile on her face. When he softly asked if she remembered him, her face clouded over. ``I don’t know your name,’’ she replied tenderly, ``but I know I love you very much.’’

But even the power of speech had long since deserted her now. Her mind, once so quick, so vital and so sharp, was like a towering skyscraper at night, where the lights were being switched off one by one, in a steady but irreversible sequence.

In the back seat of the car, the little boy pondered this aloud. He turned to his sister and asked why his beloved Gran couldn’t speak. Gently, the little girl explained that their grandmother was ill and had lost the power of speech.


"Her mind, once so sharp, was like a towering skyscraper at night, where the lights were being switched off one by one."


The children asked their father if he was sad about it. He thought carefully about his response and told them that his mother had first been touched by dementia in her early forties. He told them, with a smile on his face, about how she would always lose things and how, as an inveterate letter writer, she would write aerogrammes to family and friends but the letters were always punctuated by blank spaces because she could not remember words, names or details.

And the father explained to his children that while he was indeed sad to see his own mother unable to speak or carry out basic everyday tasks, he was thankful. Yes, he was thankful because dementia could have claimed her while he was an infant. Instead, by some strange and inexplicable process, it had never progressed. Then, when she was in her late seventies, the condition had suddenly put a roadblock in her life. This time, it attacked her with a vengeance.

The father explained to his children that it was almost as if God had decided to give her a chance to embrace life for another 35 years.

There was a long silence in the back seat of the car. Then the little boy spoke. "I’d love to hear Gran talk just once," he said fervently.

Slightly more than three months later, the various members of the family were spending Christmas together. The little boy walked into the room where his grandmother sat. She smiled at him and put out her arms, as she always did. Children had always brought her special joy, and she had been a surrogate mother to so many children across half a century.

Her arms still had strength where her mind had been so vitally sapped. She picked up the little boy and put him on her lap and he nestled against her.

"Hello," she said clearly and loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear.

She died in 2001. That solitary greeting, which the little boy still regards as an unforgettable Christmas gift, was the last time we ever heard my mother speak.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

71 comments:

lime said...

you've brought tears to my eyes. that was a precious gift for your son and all of you too. and it was a gift you shared with us.

Akelamalu said...

Oh David that is so sad and yet beautiful in that a wish came true. Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life.

leslie said...

Oh David! I have goosebumps and a huge lump in my throat. I, too, lost my mother to Alzheimers in 2002. I was the last one she spoke to and the last of the family to be with her before she slipped away in the early morning hours before sunrise. I am so sorry for your loss, but so happy that your little boy got his wish to hear his Gran speak one word to him. I hope that moment will last him his lifetime, knowing how much his Gran loved him. My heart breaks for you all.

On a happier note, come on over later when I put up my D post. It's still Tuesday morning here, a bit early to put it up. However, I do have a new post about my upcoming back surgery and what my back problems are. Hopefully, I'll be able to meet you at the airport, though, on the 27th is it? Keep in touch re your itinerary.

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

You've touched my heart and soul with this story, David. Thank you.

RuneE said...

Thank you for telling this touching, highly personal story. To me it speak volumes - among them that one should both hope and enjoy the short pleasures that life may sometimes give you. In spit of allt the terrible things there are to be afraid of.

nitebyrd said...

I don't remember your name ... but I love you very much! What a beautiful story, David. It definitely shows that the mind may wander but the heart never does.

Jeni said...

So beautiful, such a meaningful post, David. The last Christmas my Grandfather saw (1956) an uncle of mine brought home a tape recorder -one of those big things then, ya know -and he "interviewed" everyone in the family present that holiday but paid special attention to his parents and recording their answers. For years, my uncle kept that tape and every time I would go visit that uncle, he would get it out, set it up and play it as we would sit at the kitchen table, drinking coffee into the wee hours of the morning, listening once again to the sweet, soft voice my grandfather had. I would love to have a copy of that tape, to play it for my kids, my grandkids too but my cousin has been unable to locate it among the many items left in the storage area where her parents lived. I keep hoping she will someday come across it and can give each of us, the grandchildren, a copy of it so we can once again hear his voice.
I can understand completely there your son's feelings of treasuring that time as well as your description of how Altzheimer's comes, like a thief in the night at first and slowly begins to steal away our most prized possessions.

Ackworth Born said...

even in the sad times we can remember how much love was shared and even when much is taken away something remains.

thanks for this.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

That was a powerful post, David. Beautiful and sad at the same time.

Crystal xx

Sarah said...

what a beautiful story...shows the power a single word can hold...

Sandra Ree said...

That made me cry. God bless you David.

quilly said...

Tears. This is a very touching story about love and life and God's perfect gifts. It breaks and heals the heart all at once.

ChickPea said...

Such evocative recall and recounting, David. Your love for your Mum, and her love for you and the family reaches out to us all.

Thank you.

Oh yes - I have to nominate THIS one for 'blog of the day'.......

Texas Travelers said...

Great story.

If this doesn't make you cry, you are not capable of crying.

Thanks for sharing.

A wonderful "D" today.

Our "D's" are Done, Click here.
We added a Dragonfly update.
Troy and Martha

Aileni said...

I love the pictures but I won't be reading. I looked after my mother with dementia - that was enough.

Kimberly said...

Oh the bittersweetness of this. Isn't it funny how it hurts to feel and care, but it hurts more not to? So powerfully written.

Mojo said...

A stirring tale, to be sure. And some excellent photos to go along with it.

Sometimes Wordless isn't enough.

Louise said...

I nominate this, through tears, as Post of the Day.

Parts of this story are just like my own mother's. But once my mother stopped speaking, she was never to do it again. I am so happy your mother did it one time for a grandchild. It is a beautiful story.

CaBaCuRl said...

Beautiful, loving post, from the heart. Dementia IS a kind of slow-creeping darkness isn't it.

Lee said...

I agree with Louise. This needs to be Post of the Day. David, thank you for sharing this very moving story from your life. It's amazing what the human heart can do in times of need.

God bless you and your family!

polona said...

what a wonderful touching tale!
thank you for sharing this...

Katney said...

Oh, David. that is such a touching story and you were so wise in your explanation to the kids. Alzheimer's and other dementias are so devastating, and so difficult for the children to undeerstand.

If this post were on someone else's blog, you would nominate it for post of the day.

I'm working on D just now. It is still early Tudesday afternoon here, so I am not late yet.

Baino said...

Beautiful story and so well told David. I echo the sentiments of your commenters. I bet your son will never forget that rare privilidge either.

The Texican said...

Very touching story David. Glad you posted that. It seems to be more frequent now than before and touches the lives of so many people. Pappy

Liz said...

Dementia is such an evil condition. Sad for everyone. I'm glad your mother had an initil reprieve though and that your son was able to hear her just once more.

willow said...

Very touching story, David. I can certainly relate. My mother in law has quite a bit of dementia with Alzheimers and it is so very sad to see such a vibrant person be reduced in such a way.

What a sweet Christmas gift she gave to your family before she left.

joan said...

Wonderful and beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

Sandi McBride said...

My God, David. You've brought grief and love full circle and they've landed in a puddle on my face.
hugs to you
Sandi

CrazyCath said...

Oh wow David I am struggling to type through the tears!

That is one of the most moving posts I have ever read. This was so unexpected, but brilliantly written. Your mother was such a wonderful (that word doesn't even do her justice) person, not least because of the kind soul I know she has raised.

"I don't know who you are... but I know I love you very much." That is all you needed to know. Through the tears, that makes me smile. And you are right I am sure - God DID decide to give this woman another 35 years. So many people have obviously been blessed by her presence here.

It seems insignificant next to this, but mine is up too.

A standing ovation for this writing, not just applause. Definitely a POTD nomination. ;0)

Pretty Life Online said...

gush!!! got a goosebumps... Cool catch for WW! Mine's up too hope you can drop by... I am asking for your help!!! Please vote PrettyLifeOnline for Pinoyworld blog .... voting poll at my sidebar... Thank you so much!

photowannabe said...

Dementia touches so many lives. I like the answer you gave your children. I'm sure it helped them understand it all a bit better.
You brought tears to my eyes and I sincerely thank you for this tender post.

womaninawindow said...

OH my, this was more than a post of the day. And the sky was lovely and foreboding.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

Poignant memories beautifully written.

Others have said it so well, I can only agree with what has already been said.

Expatmum said...

Cor blimey. Tear-jerking or what. It resonates with me as my dad died when I was too young, so my kids and husband never knew him. They can tell by the way we talk about him and the photos, that he was a special person, and when one of them says they wish they could have known him, well....

babooshka said...

This a real circle of life tale. A very poignant story and choice for the letter. One thing I will say though is I come from a nursing famiy and did the stint in nursing home. Not my prefered career choice. Some of the happiest, funniest, wisest people I nursed had dementia. It was the famiies more than they that suffered. In the suffer's lucid moments they bought such joy to the families, In their opaque moments such misery. To the suffer though they were quite often deliriously happy in their non recognition. Such a personal post, one that will touch us all this week.

Lori said...

Great shots!! Happy WW.

Lew said...

The foreboding sky in the photo certainly fits the story. And how sweet the remembrance of that one word will be for your son. My Mom also had Alzheimer's. Although able to speak, she did not have much to say during the last few years of her life. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

magiceye said...

such a poignant tale...

so beautifully narrated..

Jules~ said...

This story brings me tears and lifts me up all at the same time. How dear it was to read when she couldn't remember your name but knew beyond doubt that her heart was filled with love for you. That is a treasure just as much as I imagine it is for your son to treasure her embracing hug and answered prayer of being able to hear her speak love.
Thank you for being so transparent and sharing this story.

Bear Naked said...

You have written a beautiful tribute to your mother with this story.
It is a powerful explanation about dementia and how it affects everyone.
Thank you.

Bear((( )))

Maggie May said...

That was such a beautiful account of the family's encounter with this awful disease. Brought tears to my eyes. A truly brilliant post.
My Mum died in the New Year of 2001, a sad year for us both then.

Old Wom Tigley said...

You are a star... such a moving post David.

Denise said...

David this was lovely. My uncle suffered this dreadful disease and it was so awful to see his nature change towards us all. I know it was the illness and not him, but it still hurt.

Greyscale Territory said...

What a moving post with pics gently slipping by for a little time to digest your words! Just delightful!

fishing guy said...

David: A wonderful story with a great lesson of life.

Lynn@ The Vintage Nest said...

My own Mom is 84 yrs. old and sharp as a tack and I thank the good Lord for that every day. Beautiful and moving D story David.

VP said...

I found this post very moving David. My husband's mum has just been diagnosed with Dementia (early stages), so we're yet to experience what you've described so eloquently.

I call this disease 'the long goodbye' as it's very hard on the family to witness what is happening.

Miss_Yves said...

A moving post...
Beautiful pictures ...
miss Yves

Debbie said...

I am at a loss for words - and that never happens to me. I would write more but I can't. I need to go have a good cry, reflect on your words and give thanks for so much. Powerful writing from the heart, David. Thank you.

Christine said...

So well written- very nice post.

Love Bears All Things said...

Hello, I came over to visit from Sandi's Blog. I really enjoyed this post. My MIL had Alzheimers as did my own grandmother so we've dealt with it in our family too. This is a beautiful piece that you've written. I love the part about the skyscraper.
Thank you for writing it. I've added you to my favorites so I'll be sure and return to read more of your prose.
Mama Bear

Nydia said...

So touching it took so me some minutes to fully put my emotions back to trails - my grandma had Elzheimer as well in the end of her life. A beautiful post.

Tommy V said...

What a great post and such a touching story.

Sally said...

Wonderfully written; thank you for sharing. My beloved father, whose birthday would have been today, had Alzheimer's and passed away in 1994. It's such a sad disease. God bless.

pat houseworth said...

Taking a quick look(busy, busy) Davie, you have put together some quality and colorful photos on here the past couple of days. Good Work!

Lehners in France said...

As you can imagine I'm sat here crying too. What a truly wonderful gift for your Mum to give to your son. You speak fondly and proudly of your Mum, she sounds like a great lady. Debs x

cheshire wife said...

Very poignant post. My mother has vasculare dementia (not Alzheimers) and it does make like so difficult at times. Now I can see that it has been coming on for years but it only got bad about for years ago. It is so sad. At times I would like to talk to the mother I once knew, as I expect you would too.

Mrs. Organic said...

This is such a beautiful, moving post. What a precious memory and tender mercy for your son.

I love the way you write.

becky voyles said...

David, this is one of THE best posts I have ever read. It brought tears to my eyes. It brought back memories of "The Notebook" - another tear jerker. Dementia and alzheimer's are scarey things. I had a few sr moments recently that had me scared and wondering about myself. Thanks for this post.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

oh boy... this post gave me a chill and was heartwarming also...

beautifully told....
thank you for sharing David.

Suburbia said...

A very touching story about such a dreadful disease. Lovely photos.

moannie said...

Dignified, moving,courageous, heart-warming; words to describe your mother, and your writing.
Thankyou.

Gordon said...

A beautiful post; powerful words and suitable illustrated with great photos.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

Have just discovered this post David - Alzheimers is such a cruel illness. But you have written so beautifully about your mother that it must have helped your family to deal with it.

My grandmother and my aunt both suffered in this way - both at peace now. A.

Les Becker said...

David, you have me in tears...

RiverPoet said...

David, I'm just getting around to catching up with saved posts, and I'm so glad this was one of them. What an amazing story you have there. Your mother sounds as though she was a wonderful woman who was sadly stricken by an illness we don't fully understand. That God allowed her to speak one more time for your son is a beautiful gift. He knew what your son needed to hear.

Peace (and big hugs) - D

wyo said...

This was *beautifully* written. Just wanted to say so.

Jo Beaufoix said...

David that was beautiful. Weirdly I wrote a little about dementia today. It's maybe one of the hardest ways to lose someone as they lose themselves too.

Hilary said...

This is such a touching post. This disease touches so many. I'm glad that it held back for so many decades and that your children got their wish. Very moving. Thanks for sharing.

Carol said...

I am speechless. That God is powerful enough to allow a woman to speak to her grandchild one more time, but hasn't yet put a thought of the cure in any of our heads. Makes me sad.

Teacher's Pet said...

A blog post that will stay with me...tenderly penned.