Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Memory

“The years have taken its course,” my mom says. She pauses after that statement, and though it’s poignant it’s hard to determine where she is in the moment. In this final stage of Alzheimer’s I want to believe she is aware of who I am and cognizant of our conversation. But I get the sense anyone sitting with her in this nursing home in northeast Texas could be me. The frame that borders her world is crumbling fast, expunging names, faces, and memories, limiting us to what we can talk about. So I search for what’s left, the familiar that remains. An old story from her past told one more time, not so much for her but for me. I want to be lulled back to when she remembers, and that takes us to her birthplace of Georgetown in then British Guyana.

Her language is jumbled as I jot down her words:

“British had lots of water pushing in … I would stay there awhile … water plunges until it gets to the bottom.”

She becomes frustrated with her unintelligible thoughts, repeating, “The years taken its course.” I notice the word ‘have’ is left out of the sentence and it’s only a few minutes into the conversation. Yet, she reaches back through the years struggling to remember her story she has told many, many times: a teenage girl on the shore looking out at the ocean.

“I would stay there awhile. Watching as the water swirls out and returns crashing on the shore. I would run to the top of this wall made out of stone and run across it … looking down at all the people … people in the water. People with lines in the water.”

“What were the people like?”


“The people in Guyana? What were they like?”

“Oh,” she smiles, “They were good people.”

As she reminisces, my mom observes my daughter who is laying at the other end of the couch watching a show on the Kindle Fire. “Sometimes you feel sad.”

She pokes a finger toward my daughter who giggles on cue.

“How old is she?” she asks.

“Three and a half.”

“She is very wise. Very smart.”

“Yes she is,” I reply and after a few hours it’s time to go. It’s been a good visit. We gather up our belongings and Mom walks us to the exit. I enter the combination into the keypad that lets us out. She waves and I say goodbye.

“Don’t say goodbye. I don’t like goodbye. Say ‘Arrivederci!’”

“Arrivederci!” I say.


pattinase (abbott) said...

That last line is a heartbreaker.

David Cranmer said...

For years she has said that to me. Its one of the final words/phrases hardwired that she has held onto.

Charles Gramlich said...

Some of those lines read almost like poetry, though. the hint of meaning I guess. Very tough.

David Cranmer said...

She has the heart of a poet, Charles.

Bill Crider said...

I remember when my own mother was slip-sliding away and sometimes there would be a moment of clarity that would just about break my heart.

David Cranmer said...

Bill, Know what you mean.Those windows of light are extraordinary. And sad because you can see what her life could have been like if she hadn't been robbed of her memories.

Ron Scheer said...

"They were good people...Sometimes you feel sad...She is very wise." Such honest and heartfelt simplicity.

Naomi Johnson said...


Oscar said...

I hope the hundred million the Assn received for the ice bucket plunge brings about a cure.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

David, I was touched by your deeply personal writing. Your mother is a picture of calm and poise. I wish her peace and strength of mind. These are moments to cherish for ever.

Randy Johnson said...

I worry about my mother, who's 85, and things aren't anywhere near that. I hope the lucid moments continue. It's something you both can hold on to.

David Cranmer said...

I like the way you looked at that, Ron. So true.

Naomi, "Heartbreaking" is the right word to describe.

Prashant, She was "calm and poise" in these moments but as my sister could tell you there are also many more of the other darker moments. Its such a teeter-totter of a disease. Dreadful.

Randy, My mom started sliding down hill around 81/82. The first time we noticed something different was when she drove to the same store she had gone to for over thirty years and went right past the supermarket and got lost thirty miles from town.

David Cranmer said...

Oscar, I remember about ten years ago they said they were close to a cure and it would be in our lifetime. And now they have a test that can determine if you will get the disease within ten years. The idea is then you can begin taking experimental drugs to combat it. So progress is being made.

Sarah Laurence said...

I'm so sorry you are losing parts of your mother slowly, but I'm sure your presence helps. Her memory fragments sound almost poetic. I recall an Italian friend explaining that Arrivederci means see you next time.

David Cranmer said...

Sarah, Yes that is right. Mom would quite often follow-up Arrivederci with "till we meet again." And what an easier way to say goodbye, right?