71: The Bear

71: The Bear

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

The Bear

The most wasted of all days is that in which we have not laughed.

~Nicolas Chamfort

“Come home right now. There’s a bear in the back yard!”

That’s how it all began for us — a sunny day in June that changed everything. The phone in Dad’s office rang and it was Mom, matter-of-factly stating there was a bear in our yard. Odd, because in the nearly forty years we had lived in that house, we had never, ever, seen a bear in the yard. We had never even seen a bear in our state!

Dad initially tried to explain to Mom that she didn’t have anything to worry about because it couldn’t possibly be a bear. She was adamant, however, so he relented and drove home from the office to see what the heck was going on.

When Dad arrived in our driveway, he encountered a massive brown cow — standing in our back yard. And my petite, beautiful, seemingly healthy mom, defiantly standing at the back door, hands on her hips, saying, “I told you there was a bear in the back yard!”

Apparently a cow had escaped from the farm down the road and found her way to our back yard. To this day, I still don’t know why Mom saw a bear instead of a cow. But I’m a lot more educated in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s now than I was in 2009, so I know that to her, it was a bear. In the years that have passed since then, she never backed down from her conviction. For some reason, she always remembered the bear.

That day was the beginning of a three-year journey into Alzheimer’s that tested our perfect little family unit — Mom, Dad and me (a slightly spoiled only child) — in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We managed our way through a lot of memories lost. We learned to unplug the oven and hide the car keys. We learned to look in the freezer when the TV remote went missing. We learned to navigate a plethora of drugs and buy sippy cups. We learned that chocolate pudding makes you feel better because, well, it just does. We learned to slow down, sit still, and enjoy one another’s company while we still had time. And we laughed. We found great comfort in the fact we could still laugh together no matter what.

Mom passed in 2012. And when people ask me about my family’s journey with Alzheimer’s, I think it shocks them when I laugh out loud and smile. Not the reaction they expect, I think. Probably not the reaction they get when they ask others that question about this terrible disease.

Then I share the bear story. And they laugh with me. Because Mom forgot where the forks were in the kitchen, she forgot how to put her clothes on, she forgot her sisters, but she never forgot that bear. And any time I asked her about it, right up until the end, she would always tell me the whole story — over and over again — and we would laugh. Out loud. And the only thing that mattered at that point was that it was a memory. And there weren’t many of those left — so we cherished it.

~Lisa R. Richardson

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