I arrived at my parents house after work to take my mom out Christmas shopping for a book for my dad the other day. She has recovered well from her open heart surgery this past summer and her broken femur from the summer before and is fairly mobile for short periods. Also the progression of her Alzheimer’s seems to have slowed.
“Well hi there Mike! Good to see you.”
“Hi, ready to go shopping?”
“Yes I am, your dad left a list for us here somewhere.” She walks over to the kitchen counter in search of the note. “So, you’re all done with school now?”
“Yep, got two weeks off.”
“Oh that’s good, I’m glad you’ll be around to help with your dad’s surgery.” (Well, not that I’d actually assist with the surgery, but rather with the aftercare.)
At this point my dad entered the room and we went over the list a few times as my mom needed reminders as to what we were doing. After we went over the list with my mom, she turned to put on her jacket and my dad said, “Well, you don’t need to do the whole list; she’s not going to last very long.”
“Ok, we’ll go ot the bookstore first, then hit Target if she’s up to it.” Having put on her coat we were ready to go.
“Oh, I get to ride in the truck!” she says as I turn to lock the front door. In the time it took me to lock the door she had made it down the steps to the truck; I did say she was fairly mobile. I assisted her into my truck, “Boy, this is higher than our car.”
“Yep, there’s a handle right there if you need it.”
“Oh, I’ll definitely need that!” So with mom loaded up, we drove off.
About halfway to Barnes & Noble my mom asks, “So, you’re all done with school now?”
“Yes, I have two weeks off, we go back on the 3rd.”
“Oh, that’s good. I remember at the college we always got a nice break abou tthis time too.”
We pulled into the parking lot, found a spot realtively close, and I helped her out of the truck. “Now, what are we here for again?”
“We’re doing a book exchange for Christmas this year so we’re here for you to pick out a book for Pop.”
“Oh, ok; a book from me to him then.”
She took my hand and we ambled into the store. Though she could probably walk on her own she needs someone to hold her hand when she’s outside and inside she needs to brace herself on chairs, counters, or whatever furniture is near for her to touch. She has made a lot of progress in her recovery but I think she can’t remember her progress from day to day; plus she is terrified of falling again.
Entering the store I led her around thinking book titles might trigger her memory about books or authors my dad had mentioned. We shuffled around a bit and I have to admit I felt a bit awkward at this role reversal; me leading her around a store holding her hand. We paused at the New Arrivals, she released my hand and gently grabbed the bookshelf.
“Now, what are we here for again?”
“To find you a book to give to Dad for Christmas.”
“Oh, right, a book from me to him.”
“Yep. Can you think of a title or author he has mentioned?”
“No, not really.”
“Ok, he did mention one to me; let’s see if we can find it.” I led her to the history section, then the social sciences/current events section as I scanned for the title my dad had told me, and I could tell she was slowing down. I noticed an empty chair by the magazines and suggested she rest there while I continued looking. I sat her down in the chair, she asked to look at the People magazine, and I continued my search; again feeling that awkward role reversal. After a few minutes I returned with two books, “Unbroken” and a book by one of my dad’s favorite authors Thomas Friedman. I handed the books to her and asked which one she thought he’d like. Shortly after I realized I should not have used the pronoun ‘he’d’.
“Ok, who are these for?”
“You are choosing one for dad, the other I’m going to give to Kevin.” She proceeded to read the flaps of both books.
“Oh, he likes Thomas Friedman…” she says then reads the flap of “Unbroken”, “Oh! Does he survive?”
“Now, I can’t tell you that, you’ll have to read the book!”
“Ok, now, what am I doing?”
“You’re choosing one book for Pop, the other one I’m going to give to Kevin.”
“Oh, for Christmas.”
“Right”. She chose the Friedman book, and I headed to the checkout while she waited in the chair.
We shuffled out of Barnes & Noble and ambled across the parking lot to the truck. I responded once again that I was indeed done with school for Christmas, and re-explained who the books were for and we loaded up then headed home. Upon reaching home I siad I would take the book she had chosen to my house and wrap it so my dad wouldn’t see; then I had to remind her of that at least three more times before I left and headed home.
One of the many things that is hard to get used to when you’re around someone with Alzheimers is the repetitive nature of their questions and comments, and the frequency with which they occur. Each time their record skips you really have to fight the urge to say, “You already said that.” or “I just answerd that.” I’m sure this wears on my dad since he is around her 24/7 . For me, I sigh after the 10th or 15th time she repeats something, then I remind myself she just doesn’t remember, and I’m thrilled she’s here.