Christmas of the Mind

We speak the words, “Merry Christmas” but the term is especially challenging when part of that day is spent in an Alzheimer’s ward.

Two Christmases ago it became evident that there was no longer any point in bringing gifts. Whatever curiosity the brightly colored package may create and whatever appreciation the contents may evoke, they are quickly forgotten. It is in the nature of the season to want to give, but nature fails when the recipient is unable to process the act of receiving.

What is left then is just to be there and to hope that my presence generates something on the inside that’s not always detectable on the outside. Indications of recognition are encouraging. An occasional smile or even wry attempts at humor are gifts into themselves.

Sometimes there’s a monologue – a long recitation incorporating characters and places as though a reel is running through her mind. There are many images but no discernible storyline. The memories are of long ago. Recent times don’t make the reel. In my case, much of what I hear is now spoken in French, a long throwback to the days before moving to the city.

There are decorations inside the ward: Santa’s reindeer, miscellaneous snowmen, nativity figures and a small Christmas tree at the nurses’ station. If Christmas can bring joy, here is the world where it’s needed most. Perhaps the combination of colors, holiday visitors, kids singing carols and season-induced cheeriness can be infectious.    

Snow fell, exactly at noon, on what would be the last Christmas day spent in her home. For the first time ever, the turkey was store-bought, She was, however, adamant about the stuffed mirlitons and the candied yams, which somehow wouldn’t count unless she made them herself.

That was the Christmas of 2004. By the Christmas of 2005 all of our lives had changed as calamity reached its high water mark. There is mercy to her not seeing the condition of the house that she longs to return to – the one place that she hasn’t forgotten.

She spends much of her time sleeping these days and I’m heartened by that. Maybe in her dreams she achieves the escape denied by real life. Maybe that’s where the stockings are still hung with care.

Christmas in the Alzheimer’s ward is satisfying only in that she has made it another year since last Christmas, and a year-and-a-half since a doctor predicted that her heart wouldn’t last six months.

She is, at least, comfortable. But oh, if only I could, once again, smell stuffed mirlitons in the oven.

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