It starts with almost invisible deterioration. The hearing is slightly compromised. There’s tentativeness about anything from negotiating a staircase, corncob or a checkbook to remembering what day of the week or time it is. There’s a shuffle to the step. The one or two items that were occasionally misplaced, suddenly join a growing pile of jumbled objects, names, dates and places. They have all gone missing, never to be found again. They are lost forever.
Eventually, like ourselves, they will all be forgotten.
Every day becomes a mountain, a hurdle, starting at a perpetual point A from which there is no logical point B to aim for or follow. There is no map for aging. It’s rarely as graceful as we hope. The tidal wave of maladies and forgetfulness that can no longer be excused or justified looms larger, threatening to swallow what’s left of the person and drown everyone else around them.
Slow. No wake.
The last will written on what may as well have been parchment paper, there is a test of it daily. The strongest of it cruelly eludes the caregiver. There’s not enough to go around. Somehow, the person who is crawling backward toward childhood and infancy, retreating into a shell of the former self, curled into a ball of twisted thought-twine continues without direction, helplessly aware of impending darkness yet staunchly determined to avoid welcoming what little light remains. We grasp at straws from where everything that once was, empties out on either side.
This is what Alzheimer’s looks like from the outside in.
The witnesses of this cruel and unusual fate attempt to juggle the everyday demands of life with the quicksand that is taking the very soul you are trying your best to save. It threatens to seep into what life you have left and to take your own with it. Both exist in a parallel universe that has little basis in reality. The process of dabbling between life and death is slow and painful. It’s killing us all.
We are disconnecting the dots.
In Florida, in particular, I see the process of dying as it plays out in slow motion. In reverse, at the end, we have tens of thousands of elderly people in various stages of decrepitude whose calendars are filled with all the doctor’s appointments, ailments and prescriptions that their insurance will cover and surely more that Medicare will not.
Please take a number. Yours is not up. Yet.
I see them in restaurants, barely capable of lifting their heads, sitting in chairs with eyes glazed over, disengaged, staring into the distance of an unknown nothingness waiting for nothing to happen fast. It passes too slowly. I observe them in degrees of confusion and disrepair, in waiting rooms, in hospital beds, in transit from here to there, waiting for a bus that doesn’t come.
I’ve heard the moaning and the keening and the waling beyond the walls that divide and keep them separated from here and there. I write the unformed words that echo in my head. I see the age spots and spotted clothing, and curled knuckles and anguished faces. Often, those wrinkled, gaunt visages belong to the caregivers. Amidst the flowers in vases, I smell the beginning of the very long journey to the end.
In the inequity of life, I hear stories of others who are wearing these shoes, worn to the soles and see with my own eyes how hard we resist and often refuse to succumb to the marching orders where life promises to take us to the other side of something else unknown. And I wonder why it takes so long to accept that eventually, we will all go there.
We are window-shopping for death.