I read an article in the online New York Times and suddenly find myself crying. Although I cry easily and have come to accept that as part of who I am, something about this crying jag disturbs me. I sit for a moment and let that feeling wash over me, trying to identify it.
The article is by Nancy Stearns Bercaw on her father and grandfather’s decline into dementia, and the way she analyzes herself constantly, waiting for her own slippery slope to be inevitably diagnosed. I can relate: before losing contact with my birth mother I watched her decline, watched her take supplements and obsess over memory-fortifying exercises such as crossword puzzle solving – all in the hope of staving off the inevitable. I also got to see my grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s and hear tales of her mother and sister as they also succumbed to the disease.
At forty I find myself analyzing my mind every time I forget a name. I quit my trivia team recently, and a small part of the reason was the jag of fear I would feel every time I knew that I knew the answer to that question, but that I couldn’t retrieve it from my brain. Even though that sort of exercise is exactly what I should be doing to stretch my mental faculties, I couldn’t bear the anxiety of it (though there are other reasons for quitting as well, and I shan’t amend my decision).
Like Nancy I am waiting for the forgetting to begin.
What is extra terrifying is that I don’t have any family to take care of me. The toxic brew of my birth family is on another continent. My mother here is on the opposite side of this country and has health problems of her own. She’s unlikely to be able to care for me in another twenty years, even if she is still around. I divorced in the middle of last year. No children. No significant savings towards retirement. Damned if I’ll marry again just to have someone to take care of me in my dotage. What will happen to me if Alzheimer’s does strike? Will I end up a rag doll in a government nursing home, pulling angrily at the threads of my past but unable somehow to access my present?
Some days I convince myself that it won’t happen to me. I tell myself that my birth family’s inability to face the rampant abuse happening in every generation contributed to the dementia running through the female side of the family. I tell myself that they couldn’t face what happened to them, what they allowed to happen to the children they were supposed to protect. I make up an image of their deliberate “un-knowing” of these events and situations spreading like an oil slick over their ability to remember their day to day life and then I tell myself that it won’t happen to me because I choose to remember, and I won’t look away from it.
Some mornings, though, I can’t avoid the fear that my mind and memories are sand slipping slowly through my desperate fingers.
I’ll have a good cry now for a future that may or may not be, let the tears and the terror wash over me like a wave. And like a wave, if I dive through them and let them be, they will pass and life will resume once more...
...wherever it is headed.
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