Tuesday, December 20, 2011


My family has always prided itself on their intellectual pursuits. We're all bibliophiles. We love to learn new things. We're perpetual students. So I'm finding it very hard at times to deal with my mom's dementia.

She was a schoolteacher. She's the only person I've ever known who would actually read a newspaper from front to back, every article. She taught me how to do crossword puzzles and the New York Times Magazine acrostic. And now she can no longer read. She can barely talk. She substitutes words now, as nouns and names are difficult. So has catch-all phrases like "your regular thing" to refer to any number of things. Because of context, I can understand most of the time what is it she wants to say. Or after a while I puzzle it out. I know her well enough to guess what she's referring to. But as she continues to forget things it gets harder and harder.

How does this happen? How can someone who used to love to read in French and English now suddenly not be able to read a children's book to her granddaughter? How do I deal with the fear that this could happen to me? Or my daughter? It's hard to imagine anything worse. I look around the house, surrounded by the biblio-evidence of her enthusiasms. My mother's, my daughter's, my father's, my own. Books collected through the years, preserved and loved. Of places we've traveled, mysteries we puzzled over and even solved, languages we've learned. And now for her that's all gone.

I try to help preserve what's left of her as best I can. We watch lots of movies together. She can still remember actors and actresses. She knows faces, thank goodness. At least for now. The names are gone, but if she looks to me and asks, I tell her the name and she remembers. Or maybe she doesn't. I'm not sure if the names even matter anymore. But the people do. And she loves to try to find their names in the credits.

Up to few months ago she still had enthusiasm for buying books. But I noticed more and more, that she never actually read the books that we bought for her. If we go to a thrift store or bookstore, she still loves to look at books. But now she says, "This would be interesting," meaning for me. She still wants to get books for my daughter.

I find myself reading and writing more and more, as she becomes involved with words less and less. I guess that's all I can say about this for now.
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