Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s typically has a swing phase, when their capacity, mood, or behavior swings between dreadful and okay. You learn to pivot between dreadful and better.

It can be sudden. One day, they’re just better. They’re not 100%. They’re certainly not healed. The pivot to better is smooth, and that better day is so delicious. You want it to last, but you know you’ll pivot again soon, at any moment from better back to nails-scraping-the-chalkboard dreadful.

This sadistic disease drives the knife in, removes it, then in again with a twist. And you pivot with it.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.
mom and grandson at piano

What makes the difference? What was different in her brain ten days ago when mom was weepy and weak, unable to complete simple tasks like find the bathroom and sit on the toilet to pee?

“You have to sit first.”

What was different yesterday when she told me, “I’m going to pee,” and successfully found the toilet and sat? I checked on her, and she accomplished the task without my help.

What makes the difference?

There are no straight lines.

We’re descending. No question. But we freefall against unpredictable gusts of resistance, persistent memories that push us back up, until the weary collapse, nosedive, the day when we feel “It’s all over,” but it’s not. She pushes back, back up, asks a clear question out of the blue, using a name without falter.

“How’s Steven doing?”

Her pace is cautious but without waddle as we walk through the field. At the house, she remembers where to put the mug and the lids as she tidies the kitchen. These are no longer small things.

Months ago, a friend said it will be easier when all the remembering is over. There are moments when I ask myself, Is this it? and for a fraction of that moment I look forward to the relief my friend promised. But mom rallies.

“Did Steven get another job?”

And I’m not sorry because Oh! You’re here!

This is good. Better than the relief, isn’t it?

I’m still here.

The day I came back to the farm, mom told me “I had a couple of bad nights. I cried.”

I knew this of course. “Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It was just… I had to cry.”

This, when she sees herself and tells her story, this is a whole different level. It’s subtle, but good lord, some of us with all of our brain have trouble stepping back and seeing ourselves. She is still seeing herself, stepping back to see this mess we’re in, to see herself fall apart. She remembers less and less, but she still sees. That’s better than nothing, isn’t it? Or is it?

I’m selfish. I want her to rally, buoyed by gusts of persistence, even if for a moment.

Yesterday was a good day. In the evening, we strolled through the field from her house to mine. The bob whites fluttered in the grasses as we sang I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck. She smiled. She asked about Steven.

I’m not sure what today will bring. I hope another rush of energy to buoy us into small conversations as we stroll through the field in the evening. But it might be a nosedive, and I’ll have to hold tight as her body pulls her down the hill. She’ll try to explain in cryptic, chopped up thoughts that I’ve learned to understand. “They just… my legs… I can’t… they go…I don’t… control.”

I’ve got you, Mom.

Yesterday was a good day. I’ll hold that close to my heart if today is different. If the stroll through the field is a struggle, maybe I’ll sing with her again, maybe I’ll just listen to the fragments. I’m not sure what makes the difference. What matters is, nosedive or floating up, we’re here for her.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021