Learning to listen when there is no sound.

November 27, 2017  •  2 Comments


I imagine Alzheimer's disease as a big, fat, Jabba-the-Hutt mass of nothing congesting the area above the brow line. Even though it seems counterintuitive for nothing to have mass, I stand nonetheless by the realness of the nothing-something (and anyway, I don't think even physics is clear on the matter, no pun intended). I myself feel a version of this paradoxical nothing-something's weight when, for instance, I butt up against a concept so entangled that its beginning and end seem hopelessly matted in chaos. Un-gettable. It's something, but nothing's there. Paradoxes are not easy to grasp, and they're usually best comprehended when reason is abandoned. This nothing-something is blank but not weightless. In fact, it's a monster. But it's nothing. It's the same nothing that relentlessly devoured Fantasia in The Neverending Story. At best, in real life, it is analogous to the most omnipresent nothing-something of all, death. See what I mean? It's nothing, dying. When you are dead, you will be nothing. But you feel its weight, don't you? That is how I imagine Alzheimer's.


I was a maniac this past week, shredding through old emails and photo albums and videos, desperately looking for any kernels of my mother. I wanted to see her old hairstyle or her Maybelline mascara eyelashes, and I wanted to ride shotgun while she drove her Nissan minivan infuriatingly under the speed limit. I wanted her to order a Swiss mushroom burger well done when we went out for Mexican food because she was never quite culinarily adventurous enough and she always consumed her meat as dead as can be. I wanted to hear her. I wanted to know what she was thinking, or how she felt. No, that's not quite right. I know how she felt -- I know that she was happy that we were visiting. But I wanted her to say, "Let's go to Trader Joe's so I can buy you some groceries," like she said every other time I came to visit before 2014. I want her to read this blog entry and say, "Don't be silly, I'm right here." After all, she is right here...And she's not.


Of course, there will be an adage somewhere professing the grace of accepting the present condition and being at peace with who she is (un-)becoming. But I think that's bullshit, and I know that she would think the same. She doesn't have a choice but to bear witness to her own erasure. Alzheimer's is not peaceful, even as it steals her ability to cuss and get angry. It savors her one piece at a time. The more of her that is taken -- in other words, the less dimensional she becomes -- the more I feel the bigness of the nothing-something that colonizes her. I wish I had said more to her when I was younger ("How was school?" "Fine."). I wish I had shown more gratitude. I wish I hadn't given her so much grief. I know, I know, I am a walking cliché. But in a way, isn't there something beautiful about that? About the grandness of our emotions, that we can know them before we know them, through the vessels of one another?


My mother was a spitfire. She was small but big, another paradox. When I recall the clarity of her voice, the lilt of her slight Polish accent beckons me back to the very beginning, right into the safety of her womb, the place where I first knew her physically. If I could crawl back in to get closer to her, I would. I am her, that much I know. That much I've always known, even when I didn't want to. I have her cells. I have her demeanor. I now even have her voice, locked safely somewhere inside of me. I just wish she had it, too.


Curt Peterson(non-registered)
"Through the vessels of one another....." Such a powerful set of images! You draw us into your own experience, and we become your willing followers. Lessons learned through living this epic life are infinitely worthy of sharing. Some will be greatly helped by reading your lament, but many will have learned and even forgotten the lessons of which you now remind us. I am transported back to the aftermath of my mother's debilitating stroke. Mobility was taken along with coherent speech, yet she was still there in her willingness to listen and respond by being in dad's room at the nursing home. I wish I could have heard her unspoken answers to my questions. I wish I had been more patient during my visits. Now. I miss our moments of phatic communion. She died, shortly after she stopped eating nine years ago. We are reminded of her by furniture, quilts and dishes she once made or used during the holidays. Such stuff is priceless but lives end. She gave me life, but her life was the real gift. Alzheimer's takes much and leaves little, but your mother's gifts to you will never end. I know that you understand this very well, but I want to thank you for writing and posting this amazing glimpse into your soul.
You speak differently, not like others. You do not repeat things, you speak from your heart cause you speak about your own experience. And that makes everyone else experience it too. Too good to read.
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