I found this letter today I had written in January 2012 to Martha.
I miss you. I’ve been reading a book on Alzheimers and I am sad that you have to go through it. But I love you and I know when you forget me I’ll still love you and you’ll still love me. But that’s a long way away. Remember I’m always here when you need me and I might get frustrated sometimes but that’s because I’m scared. But every day I get braver. I put in this picture of the taj, I’m glad you stayed with me the night before, thats when you explained what is happening to your brain, we cried together then because we both knew one day we would lose each other but we know we will always love each other.
I sat at a table today surrounded by greatness, I felt child-like and small, surrounded by lives that have been lived for more than 60 years. I sat and listened as stories and memories were shared like currency and I was envious. I was envious because I want this but I must be patient; my time will come when I too sit at a table of old souls and share my memories and lessons of life.
I sat and listened as your lay your life in front of me, I was silenced by your words, not because I was scared, hurt or sad but because the force in which power emanated from you was so powerful it left me speechless. Today I learnt many lessons from you, I listened, I absorbed. I wasn’t silent because I had nothing to say, I was silent because I was eager to learn.
I listened today and I learnt about truth for the first time in my 30 years. Isn’t that a funny notion to finally learn the meaning of truth at 30? Today you taught me that there are two different truths to live by, one is the absolute unwavering truth. The actual events past/present/future that cannot and will not change no matter what you do. The other is the truth that sets you free. Today as I drove home I ruminated over the truth that sets you free. The truth that has the power to change your own world by believing in it. The truth that positivity exists, that negativity is harmful, that too much sugar is bad for you and that death is eminent, but the biggest truth I learnt; the truth that enabled me to walk away with a smile was the truth of true gratitude for life. Today I will not take another day of my life for granted. Days will be hard but I already know that, today you gave me the gift that my life is valuable.
I listened to you and watched you today, the words and wisdom you wanted to impart on your granddaughter, I watched her and wondered if she knew the gift that she was being given in this moment, I wanted to whisper in her ear, take the lesson now, take it now and blossom with it because it won’t be until you are my age that you will know it’s true value.
I sat and listened with open heart and open mind today. I felt honored that you shared your final journey with me, even though this was not the last time we will meet, it was with such pride that you shared with me how your body would leave this earth and whilst I was struck by a profound amount of sadness I was filled with love, that you as a woman I knew only as a child was speaking to me now as an adult and sharing with me the most intimate of details. I watched as you described your final moments on this earth, I prayed silently that they would not be soon but as you explained everything to me, the love of your life oozed from your body. You spoke so fondly of yourself, so kindly, so highly. We were speaking of death and yet I was envious. I am envious that you know how much you are loved.
I, as a woman of nearly 30 am still learning, I am still in my infancy of emotional maturity, but today as I listened, you spoke to me, I listened as a woman to another woman who is the greatest inspiration of my life. I listened with a type of lust for life as you shared with me your lessons, maybe you shared them on purpose but I think perhaps they were always there I just wasn’t listening properly.
Today I learnt lessons from you that I was not expecting to learn.
Today I learnt the meaning of truth, pride and love.
Today I learnt to listen.
Over the past few days I have seen or been reminded of how fortunate I am, and most New Zealander’s, Australians, English.. Well just how fortunate the western world seems to be. Here in New Zealand we are not experiencing war, serious drought, poverty that can’t be solved, no one I know in New Zealand has experienced the true meaning of hunger, by this I mean days, weeks without food. Currently our greatest debate is about changing the flag (my personal opinion is that this is a waste of money, but someone voted for John Key, so all is fair? Right?) and whether or not we should let Chris Brown into the country. So as I sift through facebook and see all this tragedy unfolding, war, refugees, shootings I am reminded that I, in my warm house, with a fully stocked fridge, a car full of petrol and gym memberships galore am pretty darn lucky.
Then Martha gets home and I am reminded once more that I am probably the luckiest person out (right now). I ask how her day was, in the 60 minute drive home Martha has completely forgotten where she has been. She does her ritual of bathroom, tea, fruit and sitting down for the afternoon. We make small chat, which by the way, if you know me, I am terrible at and we have a cuddle. Then I get a whiff, she needs a shower. When you have alzheimers you don’t only lose memories but you start to lose the connections between body and brain. The signal that goes from your bladder to your brain fades and on it goes. In some it is quick and I know carers who completely care for their person, they toilet them, shower them, change them, I am thankful I only occasionally have to help Martha have a shower (we also get assistance from an agency). So I shuffle Martha into the shower, stripping her, helping her in, I soap her and wash her, shampoo her hair and condition it. She stands, turns when I tell her to, covers her eyes so she doesn’t get soap in them and I turn off the water when it is done. As I help dry her I am thankful that she is ok but also that I am able to care for myself. I don’t need constant reassurance, I don’t need help to shower, I can prepare my own food, I pay my own bills.
How hard it must be at the age of 67 to be so dependent on another being just for survival. She follows me needing me to show her where her clothes are, I have laid them out. I learnt early that if left to her own devices she will find clothes that aren’t so suitable, we sit and chat while I dress her, underwear, pants, bra, singlet, shirt and socks. I kiss her hand and brush her hair. I dress her like she is a child but I am her child. I find myself feeling thankful that I am able to do all these things myself.
I remind myself that this isn’t the hardest thing in the world, but also that everything is relative to each individual. I tell Martha about my day as I make her a cup of tea and she smiles at me, I wonder if she knows how much she has lost or perhaps for her this is now her normal.
Love, K xx