I just got back from a four-day trip to Southern California to visit my aging mother-in-law. It was an emotionally exhausting trip that included a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The official diagnosis came as no real surprise to us, as Nana has shown signs of declining cognitive function for years. In some ways, having a name for what’s happening even makes it easier, but there’s really nothing easy about a parent (or parent-in-law) “vanishing” in front of one’s eyes.
As I sat with Nana for hours on end, immersed in exactly the same three-minute conversation loop over and over and over again, I found myself wishing that we had access to a permanent and cogent narrative of her memories, her thoughts, and her wishes. (I was also reading a biographical narrative at the time, so surely that influenced my thoughts.) Nana has always been a very private person, so there’s no way that would happen for her… but I’ve kept a journal for as long as I could write a sentence and I realize now that this day-to-day, year-to-year collection of my thoughts and experiences is really the most important thing I can leave to my kids and grandkids.
And years of Facebook posts really don’t cut it for this purpose.
So expect to see more of me around here in the future. I will make this happen!
During my trip to Southern California, the undeniable passage of time was most evident when we drove past the house in Oceanside where my happiest years were spent. We moved into this brand new house in 1988 when Elisabeth was four, Peter was 18 months, and the twins were still starlight.
In the front yard of each new house was a newly planted tree.
This is what greeted me last weekend:
There’s no denying it: we, too, are headed toward old age (but hopefully not toward Alzheimer’s – though we are newly committed to testing for any signs of early onset!). As I said often to Nana last week when she acknowledged that her memory isn’t what it used to be and that getting old is no fun, it does “beat the alternative.”
I gravitated repeatedly to scenes like this last week…
…partly because there’s just something so beautiful about a sunset on the horizon.
But I’ve also come to understand and appreciate (and, yes, fear) a sunset of another sort that is, I hope, many years away.