In the struggle, the spoon had fallen off the table. As I bent down to pick it up, she turned stiff, as though my momentary disappearance from her sight had frightened her. I pulled myself back up and clutched her hand reassuringly. Sure enough, a smile appeared on her face, but vanished almost immediately, forgotten. I resumed my struggle to pour the soup down her throat as she kept forgetting to try.
My dinners with my mother have been like this for some time now. Five years ago, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the doctor had warned me that she would soon forget all voluntary actions. Back then, I had failed to understand just what that would mean for her and me. She had forgotten to do all those things that were routine a few years back. She had to be kept at home, as though under house arrest. She had forgotten who she was. But somehow, she remembered me, her only son.
I finally managed to pour the last few drops of soup down her throat. My mother was now on a fluid diet because she could not remember to chew solid food long enough. I wonder how I must have been as a baby, also unable to chew my food and restricted to fluids. I imagine I was very difficult to handle, but I cannot think of anyone better capable of handling me than her! I wiped her mouth and helped her get up from the chair. The disease had eaten up her mind and was now devouring her body. She was physically weak and kept injuring herself as she bumped into walls and furniture.
The climb upstairs to her bedroom was the most draining of all. It was painfully slow because she would continuously forget the process of lifting up her legs in succession. In fact, I don’t think she was even able to remember that she was on a flight of stairs and not flat ground anymore. As I was helping her lift her left leg, she violently jerked forward and stumbled. In a flash, I bent down to help her up. She was mumbling some words, as though saying, “Oops! Pardon me for that!” If only I knew what she was trying to say! The disease had robbed her of speech. She had forgotten all the words she had ever learned. Now, she was only able to mumble sounds like a baby. This, I suppose, is an involuntary action that does not have to be taught; the basic knowledge of our species.
I finally helped her climb up to the landing, holding her firmly all the way. Somehow, she always responded to my touch, always entrusted a deep faith in me even as she forgot everything else around her. I was perhaps the only memory that the disease could not wipe out from her mind, as though it was the one thing that she was determined to save in her losing battle. I guided her to her bedroom, holding her close to me all the time. I was so afraid that I would lose her that I never took my eyes off her. I had never married and worked from home so that I could always make sure she was safe. Her disease had taken its toll on both our lives.(Continued...)