On Sundays we would sit side-by-side on a blue couch, our hands bundled together, our foreheads touching in intimate conversation. For two or three hours, we would chat aimlessly … or rather, I would listen while she wandered in and out of conversation. Back and forth through time, she would go. Furrowing her brow with the strain of remembering. Smiling brightly when she would come to the successful conclusion to a tale of her past.
Usually, there was one single thread that would engage her thoughts and loop circuitously during the course of our visits together. She would tell me her story and, once told, she would lapse into silence for a while. Then she would tell me the story … again.
Sometimes she remembered me, often I was a friendly stranger stopping by for “a spell.” Whether she knew me or not, she always took hold of my hands and pressed her head toward mine. Then she would tell her story and I would listen like a child begging for it to be told, “just one more time.” We were generous with each other that way. Her with telling, me with listening. Over and over. Storyteller. Listener.
On those occasions when she forgot me, only a momentary puzzlement would cross her face when I called her, Mom. I was her daughter-in-law and her love for family — even for late-comers like me — was boundless, energetic and uncommon. If I was bold enough to call her, Mom, then I was okay in her book.
I suspected, though, that whether I felt like family or stranger, it was of no concern. I was a visitor who, for those few Sunday hours, meant relief to the unrelenting loneliness that rides the back of every Alzheimer’s patient. The occasion of company was welcome relief. The hands of another person — ANY other person — meant blissful companionship and conversation.
Goodbyes always produced a brief spring of tears, soothed only by solemn promises to be back the following Sunday afternoon. When that next Sunday came, she was always surprised to have company, proclaiming that it had been “forever” since our last visit.
For a person with memory loss, every day contains the repetition of new joys, fresh losses. Over and over again. The only constant seems to be a heavy and abiding loneliness. There was nothing I could do for my mother-in-law that could soothe her chronic sense of isolation, but for a time … for a blessed brief time … we sat side-by-side on a blue couch, holding hands and touching foreheads while she talked of her distant past and tightly held to the generosity of a Sunday visit.
I miss that.