Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Real Bogey Man

When you were a little kid you might have been afraid of the bogey man in the closet or the monster under the bed. Or maybe you were afraid of the dark, or of the thing lying in the deep end of the pool. We think that when we grow up the monsters will go away but they don't, they just change shape and get new names. The monster under the bed becomes bankruptcy, the bogey man becomes cancer. One of the scariest grown up monsters is Alzheimer's. I picture it as a shapeless gray mass that sneaks up on you and wraps your head in a thick fog as it slowly eats up your brain. Never mind the thing under the bed, this is the real stuff of nightmares.

My uncle has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. For the last year or so he has been getting more distracted, more vague. He forgets recent events but is eager to tell stories from his days in the navy during World War II. We thought he was just getting older, after all, he's 82. You should be allowed to forget a few things. But it seems it is more than that. If you know anything about the disease you may know that it can't be diagnosed with complete certainty until an autopsy is performed. The doctors look at symptoms, go with the probability. There is a range of symptoms and different people deteriorate at different rates. There's no medicine that really works and all you can do is go with the flow, do the best you can moment to moment.

So far, my uncle's symptoms are pretty mild. Forgetfulness, distraction, and a reluctance to be left alone for long periods of time. These days he goes with my aunt to her volunteer job at the library. He just sits in the corner and reads until she's ready to go. He's still cheerful and likes to putter about the house, putting things away in odd places. It is my aunt who I really worry about. It must be very lonely to be the only witness to the changes and the oddities. She tried a support group but found it very depressing. She's not one to ask for help, even from her family. I understand this, I am much the same. So I've been thinking about how to help her out. I think I'm going to make some care packages. Boxes filled with fun or odd little things all wrapped in pretty paper and ribbon. I can't take any of her burden but perhaps I can add some light as the days grow darker.

I will also go to visit them in the fall with my sister. I want to see them and yet I also desperately want to remember him as he was, not as he will become. But I will go, and keep going, I will be there for them. This is why we tell children scary stories, so when they grow up they will have the courage and the strength to face the monsters that lurk in the dark.


Rebecca said...

having watched my mom deal with one of my aunts when she was diagnosed, i gained a lot of tips on dealing with this awful disease. Feel free to ask anytime.

I'm so sorry this has happened. Big hugs to everyone.

Kicking N. Screaming said...

What a horrible blow. I'm really sorry to hear this news and I will think good thoughts for the whole family. I heard all the scary storeis as a child, but one thing I never outgrew was the desire for things to be fair and they just aren't.

Epiphany Alone said...

I'm sorry, Sybil. It is a sad disease. Having seen a few in the throes of it, it seemed they remembered the happiest times of their young lives so vividly. Although our loss is profound, the mind is gentle in easing them back to simpler times.