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I don’t know how long we will all keep this fiction up, that Carol is okay. She is of course, in the sense that she still enjoys things, still remembers her friends and her grandchildren, her husband, remembers old things from childhood and early adulthood, but she has been losing her memory in bits and pieces for a very long time.
Seven or eight years ago I was at a gallery opening with her cousin Daniel, a wonderful, warm, observant person who she is very close to and who I have gotten to know quite well over these last forty years.
We were chatting off in a corner and I asked him, confidentially, if he had noticed Carol’s memory slipping. He thought about it and said: “Not at all,” and I could see that he was sincere. He looked at me oddly as if I was trying to say something mean about Carol who is one of my oldest and closest friends. We are like sisters. Even our sisters (we each had one, Carol’s died five years ago), think that we are like sisters.
But, like sisters, sometimes we do not tell each other the truth because we cannot stand to tell it and we think that we don’t have to tell each other yet, that someone else will, or that they’ll discover it on their own.
Carol has discovered it. She blames herself. Her husband, Mike, is impatient with her. He’s angry that she forgets things, misplaces things (keys, phones, laptops). He’s behaving as if she could still do things differently if only she would make an effort. He does not see what a great effort she is making on the daily, moment to moment, to stay connected, stay with it.
Her takeaway is that he doesn’t love her, doesn’t like her anymore.
I don’t think that’s it. I don’t know what ‘it’ is with him. Carol thinks that he’s afraid that he’ll have to take care of her. That might be part of it. We’re all more or less the same age or so. I think he is afraid of his own future disability. He counts so much on being smart, capable, in control. Especially he does not want to lose his mind, he depends so much on it.
She, too, has a fine mind, maybe that’s why we all lie about how she’s doing. We need her, I need her so much to be as she was, who she was.
Years ago, there was nothing to be done about senility, dementia, Alzheimers. Nowadays I think there is, but you have to get assessed and Carol is terrified of the assessment. I can’t say that I blame her.
When we go out now, which she loves, I try to organize things that she will enjoy and that she can do, lunch with an old friend by the water, a walk through the botanical garden near Lake Merritt, a trip to the bookstore she likes in Montclair where they haven’t changed management and they order what she likes. Even then, though, any slight change in routine, parking in a new spot, running into someone I know from elsewhere, causes her anxiety.
We stay out an hour or two, sometimes three and we chitchat about things. When she is alert and connected she is still just so bright and interesting and funny. She gets stuff. She gets me. By the time I take her home, she is always exhausted, she has been working so hard to stay present.
I feel that I lie to her every time we meet because I don’t tell her the truth, I don’t tell her that we already talked about when we were going to lunch with Nita, that its normal for her to lose her sunglasses every time she gets a new pair, that its age appropriate to forget where we parked just a few minutes before.
It’s not normal. It’s very, very sad and it’s getting worse and I wonder if I am squandering her time with us, alert in the world, by not telling her how terribly she is slipping.
I think that it will only hurt her, maybe make her angry, definitely make her anxious and she is already that. Imagine not knowing if you are forgetting something important every single moment of your day?
I cannot do it. I will not. I will wait a couple of days and ask her when she wants to go on a new adventure. Maybe if the weather improves we will walk on the beach, we’ll laugh when the wind blows our hats off and point out all the sculptures the driftwood has formed since the last clean up of a recent storm, ephemeral and eternal and disappearing with the tide.

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