We recently returned from a visit to my mother in law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 8 years ago. She has not been very communicative for some time, but this year I could really see the decline. She spent a lot of time sleeping and hardly seemed to be interested in the fact that we were visiting. Before, her caregiver always said she seemed happier when we were there. She is said to be operating on an ever younger basis, now more like a two year old perhaps.
The only times she actually spoke were when she was dreaming. It was never clear exactly what she was saying, or to whom she was speaking. But it is interesting that the ability still exists, though not in the conscious mind. Over the last 6 months, she stopped reading and she stopped singing along with the hymns at church. The caregiver told me that a while ago, she hit a point where she was just sitting and staring. She seemed so unhappy that the caregiver called the church and had the minister come pray for her. After that, praise God, she stopped staring and would occasionally laugh again.
While there, we pulled out some old pictures, mostly of when my kids were little. I marvel to think that I’ve known Barbara for something like 22 years. I couldn’t help reminiscing a little, with this being our holiday trip, though very late this year. When the kids were little, we would often go shopping together at Christmas. It had to be in the morning, in order to find parking. I usually had at least one child in the stroller. We would shop until we were tired, then go to a shop that had wonderful soup and bread for lunch. After lunch we would go home.
Some of the pictures showed some larger family get togethers. These were the times my kids could get to know their older cousins who lived in New York. I look at those old pictures and marvel at how much time has passed, since my own kids are now teenagers. So far, there is not another generation, except for one who is only a year younger than my daughter, who came as a surprise one year. Our most recent extended family gathering was to bury my father-in-law’s ashes, and even that was nearly 5 years ago now.
I remember my Barbara cooking a lot. She always seemed to be planning for the next meal, just as soon as one was finished. She did all the cooking in my husband’s family, except that Papa would run the gas barbecue on occasion. In my family, my mom took Saturday’s off, but my dad was quite capable in the kitchen as well, though he did not cook a lot. But in a way, it seemed like Barbara considered cooking to be a calling, of sorts. She might have been diagnosed a little sooner, but Papa never caught on until she stopped cooking, that something more than normal aging was going on. So it seems appropriate that many of our memories center around the dinner table. Of course she had her favorite meals, many of which I have no recipes for. I’ve checked the box, but not found some that I would have liked to have had. They may be in some book, but I am not sure which one. Unlike my mother though, Barbara had no qualms about taking some shortcuts. Instant potatoes were fine, and sometimes prepared food from the grocery deli section. Many favorites included Campbell’s soup or Bisquik. I can’t see spending hours in the kitchen, so I’ve adopted many of those shortcuts.
In one way Barbara was similar to my mom though. She was quite honest about her struggles and always happy to talk about the family history as well. I’m afraid I can’t keep all those long-gone relatives straight, but I appreciated her voice of experience where life is concerned. She told me before we had kids not to worry too much about things that happen that are out of your control. She knew what she was talking about. Child number one somehow got polio as an infant, only it was diagnosed later on. They were practically the first ones in line for the vaccine as soon as it became available because she had a relative who had had it years before. Child number two was stillborn, after she moved across the country and so had no real support network. Child number three had a birth defect that required special care and feeding and an operation at age 2. Child number 4 had an aneurism at age 16, and fortunately recovered well from the surgery. As she told me, some things just happen, and it isn’t your fault and it doesn’t mean God doesn’t care either. Those are words to live by. I miss her.