“Do you know what your father did?” she asked me, incredulity creeping into her voice over the phone.
“No, what? What did he do?” I wasn’t sure what my father could have done. Two retired people who didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Something completely and utterly outrageous? Maybe he bought a boat? Or booked a vacation?
“He sold my car!”
I snorted on the other end of the line, quiet enough for her not to hear me. “And do you know why he sold your car?” I asked her, as gently as I could. I wanted to yell into the receiver that she’d had this conversation many times over the last three weeks. But I knew yelling would do nothing except make me feel guilty.
“No, why?” she asked.
I decided to be blunt. “Because you can’t drive your car anymore.”
A pause, and then, “I can’t?”
“No, you can’t. And do you remember why you can’t?”
I settled in for the explanation. “Remember the appointment we went to? The nurse practitioner said no more driving. And the appointment you just went to last week? You’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That means, no more driving.”
I expected that she would come back with a rebuttal of sorts, denying that she’d ever been diagnosed with anything like Alzheimer’s. I mean, how many years did she refute any evidence of memory loss? How often had she denied forgetting things? How many times had she gotten angry at me for pointing out any differences in her abilities? But this time was different.
“Okay, but I’m low. He said I’m low. You know?”
I knew what she meant. She’d been diagnosed on the low end of moderate Alzheimer’s. That means that she has trouble expressing herself and cannot recall her address at times. She’s not sure what day it is, and cannot remember all of the details of her personal history. She’s not sure why she’s seeing the doctors she’s seeing, and clearly she doesn’t remember all the facts presented to her at her last appointment. And yet, she remembers the word “low.” She hangs onto those three letters with tight fists.
I know this is true: each time I’ve called since the diagnosis, that word “low” is what she returns to. Because being on the “low” end is her lifeline. It means she is not forgetting everything. It means she is not too far gone. It means that she’s not quite there yet–there meaning the point where she needs to be in a facility that can help her. Because she’s “low” as she says, she can stay for another year in her house, in her microcosm, in her comfort zone.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to say to her that day. I simply replied, “Yes, I know.” At that point, my dad must have returned for she said her goodbyes and in a second, my dad’s voice boomed on the line. I told him what she told me.
“Of course I sold the car!” he said.
I realized, in that instant, that he had missed my point. Despite living with her, seeing the changes and how she behaves day in and day out, he’s clearly not cognizant of what’s going on and what’s going to happen in the very near future. Or maybe now, he’s in denial. I can’t be sure.
The only thing I am sure of is that I’m bracing for the worst and hoping for the best. Just doing that is taking all the energy I have.