Since Sunday, Mother's Day, I've been a daughter (blue) more than a mother (proud) or a human being (reasonably content).
"Your arms are thick and flexible," observed my mother, in a moment of clarity on Sunday.
In response, I held out my arms (I was wearing a bright red sweater) and did a series of arm exercises for her. She smiled at that.
"It's very easy to lie down on the rug on the books," she said. I wonder what this meant. She used to read many books. She encouraged us to read books. In her final years as a reader, she went through Reader's Digest Condensed Books like water. I'm not clear on what she meant by lying down on the rug on the books, but it's a whole sentence, and that's good.
"[Unintelligible] happened to Germany?" she said softly. I took it as a concrete question and answered it in the context I knew she used to be keenly interested in. "Germany was devastated by the war," I said. "It was defeated and divided into East and West. It was rebuilt, and later it was reunified."
She stared at me. I stared at her. Where would we go next? I was pleased we were having a conversation.
Later that night, I Googled "Alzheimer's stages" and surfed the medical websites, learning about my mother's brain. I learned about dying neurons and tangles and the slowly shriveling brain. This is my mom, I thought as I watched the illustrations of the brain areas being destroyed by protein plaque and tangled up nerve endings.
Fifty percent of the blood in our bodies flows through a mighty mass of vessels in our heads when we are thinking hard, planning, organizing, writing, exercising the brain. Vivid sparks of life transmit information. It literally lights up.
My mother's brain is like a spaceship with its systems shutting down. The mainframe computer has a virus. Last to go will be the engine room, trying to propel the ship in darkness.
She has entered stage six of Alzheimer's seven stages. The ability to form words will keep her there in stage six. Words are precious connections between the brain and the world. When the brain fails to make words, the body systems begin to fail. In stage seven, only sounds can be made, and the brain loses its ability to voluntarily move muscles. Physical deterioration follows relentlessly.
I woke with a headache this morning, but my head is full of words. Words keep us alive. How do you like that?