Grief comes in stages, and with Alzheimer’s Disease, it gets drawn out over years. I’ve mostly found acceptance with Mom’s illness, but as I watch her devolve into new depths, I find new levels of mourning.
She’s in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, largely motionless through the day. She speaks just a little, and in whispers. She toggles between hemispheres of lucidity and fog.
A good friend of mine, Trey Terada, is a professional musician, and has so kindly played for her a couple times. I’m always grateful for his time, and for the loving, friendly disposition he shows her.
It’s fun, and it’s more lively than my regular visits. Usually, I just sit with her on the couch and hold her hand. I try to give her simple updates, which I know will be forgotten in minutes, if understood at all.
Then we look at the TV, or the plants outside, or wave at the caregiver’s daughter’s babies. Little children are a wonderful presence in a care home.
Trey tailored his performance to her preferences. “She likes hapa-haole songs, Christmas songs, and music of the ‘40’s,” I said.
Music and dance are my mom’s passion, and she was always signed up for things like ukulele lessons with the Y or hula classes at Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center. “The 1940’s are my weak point,” he laughed, but obliged on the rest.
Mom recognized him when he came in. “Of course I remember you,” she exclaimed. “I am so happy I met you!”
Trey sat down and started playing, and she lit up. Her hands moved to the music, she actually sang along – and loudly enough for us to hear! – and she clapped with her version of wild enthusiasm after he finished some tunes. She smiled and kept telling him she loved him.
I watched this little scene and for 45 minutes, cried, sometimes wept, tears of happiness and sadness. I miss who she was: So much more than this child-like person she’s deteriorated into. Then I was happy for her joy today, for the simple beauty of song and connection.
I guess near the end it all distills into this purity: life isn’t made up of big things, or knowable things. It’s the uncomplicated delight of a pretty melody, a smile and a kind word, or the silent intimacy of just holding hands that turns a life story into a love story.