Saying “Hello” to a Changing Mind

The Long Hello – The Other Side of Alzheimer’s (excerpt):

Every day I sit with my mother and watch the sea. 

There’s a row of birds perched on an errant log—cormorant, cormorant, seagull, heron. Crow.

Cathie, sometimes I drift off for ten minutes and I don’t know where I’ve gone.
“Does that bother you, Mum?”
No, it doesn’t. Are you my daughter?

We watch frantic wing-flitting at her bird feeder. Chickadees, starlings, sparrows. A house finch, brown-striped.

Cath, I think it’s a finch, it’s only . . . oh—a finch a finch a finch! Are they trying to tell you they aren’t in there? What are they trying to say?
“To say . . .? I don’t know.”
I think there’s something, they’re trying to get something across, aren’t they, love?

Love? How do I get home or when I get home how do I get home?
“Mum, you are home, see all your things around you?”
These are my things? How did they get here? I think that girl, she was the one I found most interesting but sometimes I think she employed too much use of the wind.
“Who? Who was that?”
Who? You’re a regular customer and I’m the one that rushes in, all eyes. This is my home? Do I own it?
“Yes, you own it and you’ll always be able to stay here.”
Good, because I never want to leave here. Getting them unscrambled is an important
thing—you go 7, 8, 9, which means you’re pretty strong which is a good thing. And the birds, that’s what they were screaming about, these little ones this morning.

“What were they saying?”
They said, ‘Stay little one, stay.’ And I said, ‘Okay, okay.’
“That should settle it.”

I make tea.

Tea is a more pleasant drink. It just seems to sort of go down and settle things.
“You’re my favorite person in the world.”
Favorite amongst the constipated you mean.
“How was your day?”
Today I was down at the horse barn. It came with lots of blessings.
“Oh my . . . I love listening to you talk.”
You love what?
“Listening to you talk.”
Oh. I thought I heard you say—I love looking into your voice.
“I love that, too.”

My mother’s in bed, propped up with pillows. I’m curled up beside her. It’s a tight squeeze. Pillows to the north, under her head, pillows east and west under her shoulders and arms. South, under her knees. A lace collar circles the neckline of her now-loose-fitting pink nylon nighty.

She holds her baby doll against her right shoulder, nestled under her chin. From time to time she remembers it’s there and nuzzles its forehead. Smiling, her eyes closed . . . the most beautiful gesture I have ever seen.

My mother’s nose is running. I press a Kleenex up against her nostrils.

“Is that better, Mum?”
Yes. Thank you, dear.

I leave two fresh pieces of Kleenex in her hand.

Fly away, fly away, there you go, there you go . . .

She has hold of the two pieces of white Kleenex and floats them through the air, up and down, up and down. They take on the perfect shape of wings.

A white dove.

She watches the bird.

There you go. Up, up, fly away, fly away . . .

The second most beautiful gesture I have ever seen.