My father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013, but my mother-in-law is doing ok. Alzheimer’s Disease has removed all memory of his passing. I know that many people look at Alzheimer’s Disease as being a cruel thief. I can agree with the thief part, in that it has taken her memory of recent events away, but cruel…maybe not. Her mind simply creates its own reality. In her mind he is not gone. He is at work or visiting the neighbors or out in the garage. Death means nothing to her. It has been the same with her parents, who have been gone for 28 and 23 years now.
I have long known that she lived in a world of make believe, but that fact never hit home as much as it did tonight, when Bob and I were out visiting her at the nursing home. She often speaks of those who are closest to her, and sometimes she speaks about you…to you, saying things like, “Caryn is going to be cooking dinner for everyone” when she is talking to me, or “Bobby is on his way to Grandma’s for the summer, to help with the cows” when she is talking to Bob. Corrie and Amy, work at the nursing home…at least in her mind, and my father-in-law is over by the telephone, so he will answer it when it rings. These were just a few of the recent things she has talked about, and things we are getting used to hearing.
Tonight…well, tonight was different. We were talking with my mother-in-law, and the conversation was following the normal lines…or at least, it was until it wasn’t. Suddenly she said, “Hun, can you help me get this afghan over to the sewing machine so I can finish it up.” She was talking to Bob, but to her, he was my father-in-law. At first we thought it was just a slip of the tongue, but then it happened again. She said, “Walt, you need to move that other sewing machine to the table.” We didn’t know exactly how to react. It was not the first time she had mentioned him, but it was the first time she spoke to him when it was actually one of the guys in the family. She thinks nothing of talking to him, but we know that he is gone, and the pain of that parting is still very fresh in our hearts and minds. We can’t be upset with her for what she says, because in her mind, it is reality, but to us it is make believe. Like it or not, we have to play along, because to do anything different is to make her relive his death over and over again.
I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of my father-in-law visiting my mother-in-law. Her mind will bring it up again, and it’s likely that her sons or grandsons will have to play the part again at some point. They will do it, as often as needed, because it is for her. They can do nothing else. They will play the part…so that she can keep her illusion that the love of her life is never far away.