Laughter and Alzheimer’s: Really?
I write about Alzheimer’s because, it seems, I can’t not write about Alzheimer’s. This wretched disease shows up, one way or another in so many of my essays, even when I don’t plan on it. There are times that I’m clearly writing about Alzheimer’s and the ravages of its footprint on people and family. Then, there are times I’m writing about memory and it’s purpose in our lives, as I did here when performing in the Listen To Your Mother series. I, somewhat humorously decide, in my reading, why we only remember fails of parenting-grace instead of the highlights of our childhood. There is a lot of laughter in that performance but it’s laughter borne of pain.
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and now my mother does. Before my mother had Alzheimer’s she was a professor of gerontology and cared for the elderly through her nursing career. And, like mother like daughter, so am I.
There are two things I wanted to accomplish when writing about the plight that is Alzheimer’s. I wanted to write about how it affects loved ones highlighting both the funny and sad. I never write just funny or just sad because I believe those two things are tied to each other irrecoverably
and I have no interest in pulling those things apart.
As family members and caregivers it’s very important to remember that while there is suffering there is also a bonding together in the ridiculousness of disease. I was reminded of this providing respite care for my father, who is my mother’s long-term care person. My father cares for my mother in their home and I was helping my mother eat lunch. She has back pain and gets a pain reliever at noon which I put into her pudding. Every time I gave her a spoonful of the concoction she was able to separate the pudding from the pill and spit it out.
Watching the look on her face as she daintily pulled the pill from her mouth over and over again was like a comedy sketch filled with anticipation and consternation. I just couldn’t help but laugh at her industry. When I recounted the tale to my father he and I laughed until tears came.
This is why I write. I want people to feel the range of emotions I want them to feel the desperation of losing a loved one and the hilarity of the day-to-day struggle with keeping dignity. Because make no mistake it is funny.
In I LIKE YOU JUST FINE WHEN YOU’RE NOT AROUND I explore what happens when a woman who is a caregiver finds herself caring for everyone but herself. It takes her a while to notice it, and when she does she responds in both funny and sad ways. My greatest hope is that other caregivers of all sorts find themselves in these pages and also find some respite there in both laughter and knowing.