Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The madness of Jane Stewart

My maternal grandmother has Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative mental condition for those of you living in a cave somewhere.   While my medical training is limited to episodes of ER, her deterioration seems quite rapid, which leads me to believe that some of those things we simply ascribed to the march of time were somewhat more menacing.

At its later stages, Alzheimers is a cruel inequity, stealing from its victims every defining intellectual article of personality until all you are left with is an empty vessel, infuriating in its approximation of someone you once knew.  While my grandmother's condition is not yet so grave, there is a noticable diminishment in her faculties.  She is less and less the person that she was, and it is increasingly clear that one day she'll just submerge into a depth from whence there is no return.  Depression, or so it seems to my untrained eye, has come on the wings of revelation, leaving only the possibility that it will vanish as does her ability to understand it.  She is the toughest old lady I've ever met, and for all that, there isn't a thing she can do.

At play in my mind are all the normal feelings you'd expect.  I have been dealing with the kind of guilt you feel when you haven't been there perhaps as much as you should.  To a certain extent, I think of her as dead already,  and mourn the passing of her personality, which I consider a far greater loss than the inevitable end of her body.  I feel bad for my mother too.  Her father died in late May, just a few months ago, and now her mother is on the way out too.  Mom has been forced to assume the burdens of final care, as the rest of her sibblings are unavailable for a variety of reasons.  She spends much of her time with Grandma until a more permanent solution can be found, and she is in charge of the various legal and financial issues death and disability incurr. 

For my own part, I have been especially reticent in visits since the diagnosis.  I know about the kind of person this makes me, but I find the process very disturbing.  In many ways, it would've been better for us if she had died "clean."  This is a very selfish way to think of things, and I cannot defend myself from any position but that what I say is the truth as I see it. 

Death is inevitable, but it comes and goes.  The people who are left behind move on, and from that distance achieve the ability to remember, always with some melancholy, but eventually with a comfortable peace.  Degeneration is worse, because it carries everyone else along with it until, at the end, all you are left with is relief, a feeling all the worse for the fact that you dare not express it but to yourself.  Even so, were that the extent of my apprehension, it would not be so bad.  From a certain point of view, there is a kind of nobility in wanting to preserve for yourself the person you used to know.  Selfish, perhaps, but gently, singularly, humane.  Unfortunately, my character is yet more defective.      

I have always valued intelligence.  It may be the case that I have put too much emphasis on it, especially as a way to measure and consider people, but I have always considered it a more equitable meter than physical appearence, athletic prowess, or fiduciary resources.  More than that though, I value it as what I like most about myself.  In my grandmothers current condition is a spectre of an unspeakable fate.  One that, perhaps from a karmic standpoint I may someday rightfully deserve, but even so the possibility is intensely disturbing.  I do not exaggerate when I say I would rather be dead than suffer the indignity of mental disintegration.  To see it so close to home, and to witness the living ghost that was once my grandmother is almost too much.

I guess that makes me a pretty rotten person, but it's all I've got to go on.

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