This is a tribute to the strength of aging Alzheimer patients and those who love them.
Her eyes look haunting in the rearview mirror as the others snooze. Heavy lidded, she’s trying desperately like the mental toddler she is to stay awake and watch it all go by. Does she know this is likely her last time to see these rolling hills? We’re journeying thru the changing seasons. It’s a metaphorical and literal, emotional and cognitive journey of decline. I’m certain she doesn’t know the sadness we are so acutely aware of. Her childlike excitement is one of a fresh and new adventure. It’s all new to her. How lucky she is.
I am lulled with their drowsiness and the sweet comfort of old tunes by James Taylor as I watch the leaves move from the last brush of summer to the luminous red maples in glowing morning sun rustling and sending their tune of life out into the world. Just a few miles further up and we will be in the last throes of life on the trees.
It’s a Benjamin Button trip into her childhood – full of places and the one lucid person left from her youth. Her older sister, by 10 years, is the best source for connection to her best remaining memories and though physically challenged herself, excited at the chance to see the baby girl of the family She, like we, believes it’s likely the last time which brings a heavy weight to her 90-year-old frame. I suspect she will cry at the final departure but that’s a couple days away. For now, I well up thinking about it. I’ve said all along this visit was more for the older sister than Mom. Perhaps it is also for me. Not sure.
We had intended, as we always have in the past, to visit as an escape from full summer heat of the south in July. For thirty years she has made this trip to her homestead and sisters and brothers – plural then, before the passing of so many – to spend a couple weeks catching up and journeying to a remaining brother in New Hampshire. They did it, just the sisters, for many years until one and then the other could no longer drive the six hours across Vermont stopping for every ice cream and donut shop around.
Then, my sisters and I shared the load of bringing her every third year or so. I learned to look forward to it – spending time with the old guard, listening to their stories again and again, getting my butt kicked at penny/quarter poker and making a dinner or two for them. It was a pilgrimage of sorts and I expanded their knowledge of covered bridges and local specialty cheese. We found quaint ice cream shops and drove to the top of Mt Washington, drove thru Stowe past the Von Trapp family with the Sound of Music cranked for the road while they corrected each other’s memories in the backseat. I listened to them worry about the contraband hooch by the casefull in the trunk under the overnight bags that their brothers had negotiated purchase on the no tax end and delivery on the high one. I only regret not recording every one of those days.
Last year, we arranged an extended visit with one aunt bringing Mom north and us picking her up a month later. They had not made the obligatory trek so both of us took the two jolly sisters for a long weekend reuniting the remaining three (of nine) once again if only for an evening. Now in her significant mental decline and the ridiculousness of all things pandemic, we weren’t sure we would be able to bring the two together. At 80 and 90, technological connection has zero allure. They have tried – often to humorous results of talking earlobe to ceiling fixture.
A couple hours later, we drive in the muted colors of late peak landscape and late peak for their lives. While they chat about 25-year-old grandchildren and half century children, I think of what color are my leaves. I suppose they might realistically be already turning but, just maybe, not quite in the final thrill of color. I surely like to think there’s plenty of color left before November rolls in. It’s been a long hard year.