THE TROUBLED BRAIN
In this post of The Troubled Brain, we’ll explore the fragile nature of the brain and the affects of trauma. You, maybe, as I, have heard people talk of cobwebs when they speak of losing detail about some past event, when they speak of a sketchy memory, when they speak of forgetfulness. And it’s offsetting when you lose a memory, or a slice in time because of some trauma you’ve experienced. I know. It happened to me too. I don’t remember crying.
A week after Mom died, when my sister went back to Phoenix, I kept busy. I bumbled around for nearly four months doing things people do to wrap up the end of a loved one’s life. Details, details.
As I mentioned in previous posts of The Troubled Brain, not only the person with the diagnosis of a brain defect or injury suffers. Caregivers do too. Mom’s situation was so awful and sad because not only did she suffer from Alzheimer’s, but also from COPD, and schizophrenia. The COPD made her weak and sickly. The other two made her unstable mentally and anxious. We’d been, unknowingly, taking care of her for several years before she moved in. “Unknowingly” because people who are losing their memories mask when you say things like, “I told you last week. Remember?” And they say, “Oh, that’s right. I remember.” You take them on their word. You ask questions like, “don’t you remember,” because you are not living with me every second and don’t see how debilitated they are. You only talk with them on the phone or visit for a few minutes because their house is so filthy. And you know you have to clean for her, to try to make her to take a bath, to wash her hair for her. But you can’t because she’s insisting she took one yesterday, and she doesn’t care (any longer after fifty years of caring) how filthy her place is–dog food on the carpet, kibbles strewn about the kitchen floor and on her bed, a chocolate stain on the nightstand with a straw that looks like she’s been sucking mud through it instead of soda, and the sticky tumbler she’s using with that disgusting straw sticking out of it.
And when your loved one moves in with you, the way Mom did with me and Bob. She’s angry, uprooted, out of sorts. Scared. Her independence has been stripped. Was nearly eight months before when we had to lie to get her car from her. When she called a taxi to take her to M&W Rental where she might buy a new one, but who refused to sell her one because she “appears like she doesn’t know how to drive,” they said. “Dad, wouldn’t let her buy one. He told your mom, ‘Maybe not today.'” Which, I’m sure broke her heart because it breaks mine as I sit here typing about it.
So you take up lying so that your words won’t hurt her feelings. You lie to make it easier on yourself. You did try the truth but it nearly got you cold-cocked when her anger flared. She tried to run away but the COPD stopped, Boom! On our doorstep. The dog got loose. She couldn’t breathe to get back to her house which is only 200 feet away from our door. She walked thirty feet and had to stop. It was morning and I scrambled through the house looking for her. She wasn’t in her apartment. She wasn’t on the patio. She wasn’t in the backyard with the dog. I became frantic.
THE TROUBLED BRAIN
I ran upstairs shouting for Lizz. We’d just moved her in and now I lost her. Was she wandering? But when I flung open the door, she’d crumpled on the steps–no oxygen tank, no dog.
“Get,” huff, huff, “Teddy.”
“Mom,” I was so sad to see her like that.
“Teddy,” huff, huff, “got away.”
That’s when Lizz showed up and helped. I found Teddy. All was well until it wasn’t. And it wasn’t for six months when the doctor prescribed anti-psychotics–Lorazepam and Respiridone. Things calmed down but by then Mom began to fall. I think a lot of her falling had to do with her cat, now that he’s living with us. He has the tendency to sweep your legs. He’s a big, lean, strong boy and nearly knocks me down each time he sweeps me. Mom didn’t stand a chance against him.
All the pain Mom suffered, I suffered. Bob suffered. My sister suffered. Suffering fanned out like a cobweb, each strand becoming more diffuse, more questionable, more easily shattered. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is like that. The horror suffered by those injured or sick clings to your neck in a choke-hold so tight, the memories stop in your throat. They have to because if they slip up into your conscious brain, you’ll become unhinged. When will the crying stop? At the pond, on the grass, on your back.
THE TROUBLED BRAIN
It was only two weeks ago in Church. An elder was standing in for the pastor. I can’t even remember the phrase, or the words he spoke. I was sitting with Florence, a shut-in I am in charge of getting to and from Church every once in a while.
Nothing special happened at Church except for sitting there. Then, boom! The pieces of memory floated in. How many death certificates do I order? Calling every financial and health organization who Mom was affiliated. Sorting through seventy-nine years of paperwork that became untenable because of an Alzheimer mind. Cleaning. Cleaning more. Throwing away mountains of soiled furniture, bedding, and clothes. Picking up Mom’s ashes from the hearse-driver who they’d sent over to our island’s cemetery for someone else’s funeral. Him reaching in through a window, pulling out then handing me a tote bag containing a red-wooded box, and me handing him another check. Those four months came flooding back. The organizing, boxing up paperwork, rifling through drawers, sacking up clothing, calling the lawyer, calling the bank, calling AARP, UnitedHealthcare, the mortgage holder. The lawyer taking over because I couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t. Still can’t. Talking with an author friend on Dialogue (the only one I remember because his father, too, had Alzheimer’s). Sending out an email that should’ve ripped our family apart but, thankfully, didn’t. Telling my sister I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Trying to arrange a funeral in Phoenix but letting it fall apart because we decided, instead, to have a small memorial service here, at home. Compiling a book of Mom’s artwork and a history of Mom for the service so people could know her just a little better. Making promises that I didn’t keep. Lizz telling me that I told her, I cried everyday. And finally, remembering crying every time I got into the car and drove somewhere and every time I went into her studio apartment. When I got coffee. When I sat in the shower. I cried all the time.
“Is that amnesia?” I asked Bob.
He smiled. “I don’t know.”
“I guess that’s amnesia,” I responded.
And during the this amnesia stage, I didn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. I sniveled some but I didn’t really cry. However, now my memory has given me permission. I am crying again. And it feels good to remember my mom and the last few months we spent together.
Thank you for reading this installment of The Troubled Brain. This was a hard one. -Susan.
THE DEATH OF VULTURES is scheduled for publication, September 15, 2018. But you can order your copy now by clicking HERE.