In a way, I have become the gatekeeper of Babu’s memories. I don’t relish the responsibility. On her own, her memories both have abandoned her and hold her hostage. There is a lot she can no longer remember and even less she talks about and focuses on. Some things she obsesses about. One thing in particular.
She has had a stint recently of obsessive thinking about the death of her husband.
For several weeks, every day, multiple times a day, sometimes every time I would talk to her, she’d get breathy loud emotional about her husband’s death. Even though this was 50 years ago, it’s fresh. “If I knew smoking would kill him I would have tried to stop him no matter how mad at me he got.” Even if she had already gone down this road on that day she’d go down it again a second or third time as if the grief had just surfaced. It didn’t matter if I let her talk or if I tried to distract her, she’d come back to it in a loop.
Before taking care of Babu at this stage of her life, I firmly believed in processing grief, talking about it, as much as it took, and finding a way through it. Finding closure. Now I realize, as far as Babu is concerned, there is less and less of that capability. It seems her time of processing her past and having control fully of her own mind are over. I hate it, it hurts my heart, but I need to try as I might to control what she’s thinking. At least, what’s she focusing on.
I feel I need to explain that her mind is not gone. Her memories are not gone. I have very little to complain about and I respect the struggle people go through when their loved ones are truly suffering Alzheimers or Dementia. I couldn’t imagine and it’s, quite frankly, a wonder that Babu isn’t that bad.
Even still, it’s interesting how things change slowly, but suddenly I see myself in a completely different place with her than I was even a few months ago. A few months ago I would have insisted on the importance of sharing her diary passages with her as a good distraction. A distraction from the paper and a distraction from her woes about being 99. But now I don’t think I’m going to share them with her anymore.
It hurts my heart.
Now, sharing diary passages from her past only propel her down the mourning track. They are no longer a distraction but a trigger.
So I have other tactics. There are beautiful rainbow colored great grand babies that drop by one a week, and I love showing her produce from the garden. The other night I had just edited a short story and it was one I didn’t mind sharing with her, grandmother friendly and not too scary, and it was a memory I’ll always treasure. She read the whole thing out loud even though it took us two hours. She didn’t move from her seat but kept reading on. I thought back to Miss Short, her high school English teacher who told her she reads entertainingly and with wonder. Babu still does that. She imitated excitement or dismay in the dialogue the characters spoke. I don’t think she understood what she was reading and she only gave me a general, but heartfelt, I liked it! after reading it. That doesn’t matter. It took her away from the world for two whole hours. It distracted her and gave us time together.
And sometimes, she just sleeps a lot.
All of that is OK.
I’m a little mournful about not taking this diary journey with her any longer. If I’m not going through these journals, transcribing them to preserve them and writing about them even in part to distract her, to bond with her, why am I doing it?
Here’s the big, romantic cliche (don’t say I didn’t warn ya.):
Not only am I becoming the gatekeeper of what she thinks about but I am now the keeper of her memories. They stay alive through me. I always knew that was, though cheesy, part of what I’m doing. It’s just, now it seems, since I can no longer share them with her, the full weight of it all has been passed to me. And it’s heavy.
Thanks for sharing the weight of keeping this life remembered with me.