Flip just returned, highly upset, from a walk, the only activity he can still perform by himself. I tried to determine if he had fallen, or nearly been hit by a car, but those things seemed not to have happened. His speech is completely gone now ~ his attempts to express himself are unintelligible to the extent that even with a longtime common frame of reference, I usually have no idea what he's saying. But as nearly as I can tell, he attempted to be friendly to other people he met and was rudely rebuffed. I have seen strangers turn away as he smiled at them, and I understand their instinctive fear of someone unknown evincing familiarity. But he has also grown quite frail ~ he now weighs 154 pounds at 6'4" despite all my attempts to fatten him up, and looks very old lately. He is clearly no threat to anyone -- at worst, a kindly old man struggling to retain contact with the rest of humanity which is failing him dreadfully. It's a sad thing when fear eliminates compassion.
Alzheimer's Dementia is incredibly isolating. I'm sure it's because people don't know what to say, so they avoid discomfort by avoiding contact with us. His old friends have long since abandoned him, and it's impossible to make new ones now. No one should ever be shunned as undesirable, and it's particularly sad when that person was as outgoing, witty, talented and kind as Flip. He is not sowing what he reaped, at least in this lifetime. He was the most generous person I have ever known, yet I can't remember the last time anyone who was not born to me returned his smile. Apparently he has been deemed a person with nothing more to give.
Yesterday over lunch, I said, "You know I love you, don't you? I get impatient because taking care of you is hard, but I do love you." And for just a second, he was lucid and said clearly, "I know." Then he lapsed into gibberish, none of which was understandable at all.
I feel called upon to provide the loving mothering he never got from his own mother because he deserves as much, and more. But the burden is enormous. The expectation in our dealings with others is that they learn more every minute, which is the normal human condition. With this disease, the process is reversed so that its prisoner unlearns everything he ever knew, day by day, until presumably he is as blank as he came into the world. Watching Alzheimer's relentless march through Flip's brain is like taking an arrow between my own eyes over and over.
It would be nice to insert something positive here, but hopelessness characterizes this disease. If I could ask one thing of others, it would be to return a friendly gesture whenever possible instead of recoiling in suspicion because we never know the burdens others carry, and a smile really could make someone's day.
"A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.”
William Arthur Ward