99: Fade to Black

99: Fade to Black

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

Fade to Black

Love is like dew that falls on both nettles and lilies.

~Swedish Proverb

She can’t remember the last time she saw him, though it was only three years ago. It was on July 3rd, a hot, moonless summer night, and she’d spent the final moments holding his hand, alternately speaking to him in hushed tones and singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” ever so softly into his ear, her cheek meeting his where it lay on the stiff hospital pillow.

But she can tell you how they met, in vivid Technicolor detail: about the pouring rain that day some seventy years ago when her big brother brought him to the house, a drowned rat by all appearances. But even so, she couldn’t take her eyes off his; the way they twinkled and danced! Just one look, and before she knew it she was following him into happily ever after.

She can’t remember the name of the nice lady who fed her lunch yesterday and breakfast this morning; the one who cajoles her into taking “just one more bite”; the one who brings the Styrofoam cup of too-sweet lemonade to her lips to wash it down; the one who is a mere child herself, but inevitably crows about what a “good girl” she’s been to eat so much of the pureed food that passes as a meal these days.

She will ask you, though, about your babies, and even about Ms. Stinky-Son, her great-grandson’s not-so-favorite kindergarten teacher. She’ll ask if “that woman” ever gave him back his truck, recalling an incident long forgotten by the parties involved. Her voice is animated as she stands ready to defend the shaggy-haired five-year-old with the tear-stained face of a decade or more ago, standing before her mind’s eye in a twisted version of the here and now.

She can’t remember why she doesn’t see you every day, or, perhaps more aptly put, that she doesn’t. Where has everybody gone? Why is she in this awful godforsaken place? She hates it here, she says, without saying a word, but still, you can read the indictment on her face. She wants to go home. Can’t you take her there? Sit on the big flagstone back porch and gaze across the river, have a glass of tea and talk about remember when? The pleading that goes unsaid is enough to break a heart in two, jagged edges still piercing and pinching long after the visit is over.

She won’t remember that you’ve been here, almost as quickly as you go. Tomorrow, today will be just yesterday, those short-term memories the first attacked by the cruel, unforgiving scourge that wipes the surface of her mind clean each night.

But I’ll remember.

“I have to go, Grandma. I’ll be back soon.”

Her face turns, seeking mine.

“I love you,” I say, nearly choking on the emotion welling up.

Her cloudy eyes find mine, and lock there in a long, present moment.

“I love you, sweetie,” she states with all the authority of the grandmother I’ve always known. “And don’t you ever forget it.”

~Jennifer Waggener

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