If you use your mind as a memory bank, the past will repeat itself in cycles. If your mind becomes pure attention, you will know everything that is worth knowing. Sadhguru
Cancer had first dibs on my husband’s medical worries but losing brain power was always in the back of his mind. The spectre of inheriting his family Alzheimers gene haunted him. Determined to outsmart it, crossword puzzles became an obsession. I can still envision him concentrating, glasses tipped on his nose, until sleep took over —and the puzzle book fell on his face. He was convinced if he wrote, read and puzzled enough, he would outrun the brain stealing family curse.
An embolism cancelled that worry.
But, isn’t that always the way? We’re so busy walking with heads filled with worry about what could happen, that we never see the piano— until it drops onto our heads.
Man plans – God laughs.
Still, the idea of waking up one day and not being who we are, well, it scares the heck out of me. Yet, it’s all too real for many people. We go along, blissfully unaware until our particular piano plops directly on our dependable cerebellums. Our magical brains, those parts of us that makes us who we are, have a mind of its own. (no pun intended) They makes their own pacts with the devil without our consent. That center of our being mechanizes the way we think, the way we see the world, and pretty much defines who we are. Yet, if that center becomes skewed, transformed, who are we?
I got an up close and personal glimpse just last week — and it wasn’t pretty.
Maybe I should have known that Saturday, that it was going to be ‘that’ kind of day. Having been woken by a loud conversation between my thermostat and furnace at 6 am, the day could only get better — or not. The neighborhood transformer blew, creating a two hour power outage. A raging head cold had me curled up on the couch instead of at a grandson’s last football game of the season. And after a night of babysitting two precious grand boys, with visions of bed dancing in my head, I walked into my house to the sound of a ringing phone. I picked it up to hear the calm voice of a policeman who had been called by my 93 year old dad who lives nearly 2 hours away.
The likelihood of an elderly person living alone calling 911 when they are upset or have an emergency medical situation, is not unusual. Even being called for a very real hallucination may not be exactly impossible. But being summoned by my father, who has the memory of a proverbial elephant, still drove until recently, and managed his own bills was just incongruous. Yet, the police heard a tale of red-shirted men who broke in his house, ripping out wires and a recording device before covering his kitchen with graffiti.
And none of it happened.
Thankfully, the police were kind enough to bring my dad for observation to the nearby hospital, where extensive labs and testing found nothing out of the ordinary. What the heck? It was normal to see nine red-shirted men in your bedroom? Yet, his stories continued all week. He’s regaled me with tales of being in space ship, on a noisy bus full of kids, and in a car careening around a mountain with a birds eye view of the town. He was agitated. He was confused. “This is not my father” I thought.
But it was, just a shockingly rewired one.
I understand about dementia and age but these apparitions came on like a landslide. All who knew him had never witnessed anything but an unusually ‘with it’ elderly man who still meticulously crossed each day off his calendar. I call him every night and heard nothing but the man I had always known. His confusion and disorientation stunned me — as well as his doctor who has seen him for years. What possessed his brain to take a sudden vacation to fantasy land?
Like I said, the brain is an ornery thing.
A year before my husband died we took a cruise to Bermuda. It was our first, and only cruise, courtesy of a travel review for a client of mine. (Yippee!) When we returned, my husband never quite felt like he was on terra ferma. That rocky feeling of balancing on a ship deck stayed with him. Concerned, he went to a neurologist who, on performing an MRI, told him not to worry. He had a young brain. Well, my gleeful husband reminded me of that often, especially when he beat me at crosswords. Unfortunately, he never lived to see how that young brain might have skirted the family brain-altering nemesis. But then you know that.
I don’t know where my father’s aging brain will lead him in the coming weeks and months. No one seems to know why the switch was tripped or if it’s stuck for good. His doctor seems to think ‘watch and wait’ is pretty much all we can do. Great.
In the meantime, life changes again. The daughter becomes the parent. The widow will play medical advocate once more, reminding her that cancer is not the only thing that needs a plan of attack. Too many decisions to be made. Too many questions to ask. Too many things disappear again. Anxiety reigns.
We hear the phrase use it or loose it. It’s my intent to use the hell out of my brain while I can. And to use it for good. We have no control over that piano or of the universe conspiring to suddenly short circuit our wiring but we can appreciate the delicate uniqueness of just what makes each one of us tick.
I don’t know if I have a ‘young’ brain like my husband but I can fake it. As long as they make some kind of sense, I’m going to keep using my words. I lost my taste for crosswords when my puzzle partner left but books are still an addiction and I make no apologies for the stack of them on my nightable. Relationships with family and friends are critical to a well oiled brain and what’s better for keeping my gray matter alive, than always learning from the very young brains of my grandkids.
I do know one thing. I’m not superstitious but just in case, I may think twice from now on before uttering the words…..mind. blown.
Dear Mari, You’re so insightful, so genuine, so sensitive! I really love what you write, the way you say it. It must’ve been so hard for you losing your husband that way. And now the things with your dad.
My dad passed early in 2016, almost 97. I can relate to your story about your dad because mine was doing things like that as well. In addition he was losing his hearing. He insisted that somebody , a neighbor,played happy birthday over and over every night when he went to bed, and that people were tapping on his window and ringing his doorbell During the night. He called the police several times and my sister Mary begged them not to take him to the hospital. So they didn’t, but he had to be impressed that he could not keep calling the police.
I’ll pray for you and your dad, it’s a rough road ahead. My honesty and acceptance of his situation rather than denial helped me to Make better decisions for him but he fought us all the way. Peace and love to you!
Thank you so much, Jeanne. We all go on journeys that we don’t have road maps for and this is just one of them, widowhood was another but somehow I’m walking as I’m sure I will now with dad, too. I will keep your words in mind on the days ahead and send you peace and love, too!
Once again, you’ve nailed it. For six long years, my mother was not “herself” A thief named Alzheimer’s took her away.
The brain is such a complex thing. We can always appreciate its tender workings while we have ours in working order. xoxox