There are few things in life as memorable as meeting someone who will play a huge part in your life for the first time. Whether you’re only hours old, cradled in your mothers arms, or seeing them from across a room, trying to muster up the courage to go over and talk to them.
And there are few things in life as saddening as saying goodbye to someone who played a huge part in your life for the last time. Whether it’s sitting at their bedside with a nurse giving you her condolences, or when life takes over control of your future and plucks someone away from you with no chance of a farewell.
But there is a middle ground that can be reached, and it can be far more of an emotional rollercoaster than you could ever have imagined.
Alzheimer’s Disease, named after its German psychologist discoverer Alois Alzheimer in 1906, is an incurable condition that causes a loss of function in the temporal lobe of the human brain. It begins with what looks like age-related concerns; subtle problems with memory loss and planning and episodes of irritability. But the mind progressively deteriorates from there, and the problems become more hindering and life-threatening. More and more short and long-term memories are lost; problems with fluency and vocabulary arise as the body begins to lose the ability to function properly and the need for care increases.
Currently 280,000 Australian’s are living with some form of dementia, and while it is a frustrating and degrading disease for the sufferer, those around them are usually more prone to the emotions and the difficulties that come with the illness.
Watching the deterioration of a loved one is one of the most difficult things to experience in life. Someone you have known and cared for for so long begins to turn into a different version of themselves can be hard not only to comprehend, but hard to accept.
It can begin as accepting it as a part of aging; people who are old are bound to forget where they parked their car or why they opened the kitchen cupboard. But when it becomes apparent that this isn’t forgetfulness or senility, knowing how to react can be completely lost on you.
It can start with laughter. When your grandfather of twenty-one years introduces you to one of his old school friends as his “close acquaintance” who he has “known for quite sometime”, but then can recall that this friend from high-school sixty years ago was a great runner and what cricket team they were in together, you are shocked by the duality of both what the brain can recall and what it can’t. If he can remember ‘John Smith’ from the 1940’s but not his own grandson you aren’t quite sure what is going on in his mind.
But ultimately that laughter turns to a way of masking your own sadness and confusion. The devil on your shoulder becomes the only voice your mind can hear. “Am I really that forgettable?” you ask yourself, “Why doesn’t he remember me?”
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, it changes the ones you love and takes away from them memories that they once held dear. It takes from them the dignity and basic human ability of being able to look after themselves. However Alzheimer’s is not cruel enough to take your loved one away with no forewarning. You have to ask yourself, would I be sadder if he forgot my name, or if I was forced to say goodbye?
It seems selfish to hate the illness for what it can do to a loved one and for the way that this can make you feel. Nobody wants to see a loved one go, and when it’s only their mind that is going it can leave you stuck in a state of unease. Unsure if you are meant to be saddened by the changes that are happening, when the fact that they are still there for you to see everyday should be a reason to make you smile.
Though the illness may take away their ability to remember your name, the memories you hold of them and the memories you can still make with them are firmly in your grasp. That’s all you need.