Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I Dream of Jeannie

The first time I met M's Mom and Dad was 2 weeks after Hurricane Georges hit her native Puerto Rico. M is the only one in her family that lives here in the states.

As we landed at the airport, the island looked like it went through a horrible fire. The powerful winds from the the storm had stripped all of the leaves from most of the vegetation and about 80% of the island was still without power.

It was hot and humid; fights broke out over bottled water and ice since it was scarce.

There is something about the air after a major storm in the tropics...it's still...it doesn't move. There were no cooling island breezes blowing.

It was oppressive.

M's Mom and Dad picked us up at the airport and drove us to the touristy area where her Dad's company had an apartment they used for business guests. The complex had power and best of all they had air conditioning!

As we rode the elevator up to the apartment, M gave her Mom's some 80's Pop CD's as a gift. Jeannie loves music...all kinds of music and she loves to dance! She broke out singing: "I wear my sunglasses at night" by Corey Heart in the elevator and I knew right away that I adored this woman!

M's parents stayed at the apartment with us that first night so that they could all catch up and enjoy the air conditioning. The next day however, we went with them to their home which was an apartment on the 8th floor.

Their building had some power through emergency generators...enough to give the residents lights and refrigeration for food, but not enough to power the elevators! M and I looked at each with dread in our eyes knowing that we were going to have to walk up 8 floors!

But...we were younger then and thought..."eh...nothing to it!"

M's parents, both in their 60's at this point, bounded up the stairs with little or no effort - her Mom made the trip up in heels!!! By the time M and I reached the 4th floor...we thought we were gonna die!

We eventually made it all the way up - huffing and puffing and sweating profusely - and feeling a bit shameful that her parents who were 20 years older than us kicked our butts!

The visit was great...M was able to quell her fears about her family's safety after a major hurricane and they all were able to catch up. They played cards, chatted about in Spanish (which I am sorry to say...I still do not know how to speak)and drove us around the island so we could witness the damage firsthand. It was pretty extensive trust me...I have never seen that kind of devastation before.

In the 11 years that M and I have been together I have been down to Puerto Rico 2 more times. Her parents have come up to visit and stay with us at our home a few times as well. I have been very fortunate that M's family has welcomed me as one of their own.

This past Monday M and I flew down to Puerto Rico again. This time as we landed the island was lush and green. An afternoon rain shower which is an almost daily occurrence in the tropics left the ground glistening as the sun tried to break through the clouds. It was warm but a soft breeze was blowing. The island itself was healthy and thriving again. Not a trace of the ravaging effects of any past hurricane exists.

Unfortunately, this visit we witnessed a different kind of devastation. M's Mom - Jeannie has Alzheimer's.

During M's last visit home back in September of 2007 her family had made the difficult decision to put Jeannie into a care facility. Her disease has progressed very quickly and it was becoming more and more difficult for her father who still works, to care for her at home.

M's family had prepared her on what to expect during this recent visit with her Mom. She was told that she's gained a bit of weight, her hair is no longer colored and has grown quite long and is pulled back in a long braid down her back, she has to be tied to a chair during the day because she can't walk without assistance and she may fall and hurt herself. She still has times when she is very clear, but she gets confused very easily.

When we walked into the lounge area where she was sitting that day I thought she looked very good. She was clean and looked well cared for...she even had on a bit of lipstick which I hear she was never without! The biggest change by far though was in her eyes. That sparkle, the life that used to be there...is gone. There is no expression in her face at all.

The aides let M know that she is their happiest patient and she's always singing and clapping her hands. She loves to watch game shows still and play cards, although she doesn't remember any games anymore...she just collects the cards and puts them in order.

At first Jeannie did not recognize M, but after a few moments she did remember her. She did not recognize me at all, but she reached for my hand and you can see those eyes staring...searching...trying to find something.

M sat with her Mom for a while and they talked, then they played cards and talked a bit more. Occasionally she would start singing and clapping her hands - and you knew she was happy, but you couldn't see it on her face.

I sat with her cousin in the background and let M enjoy her time with her Mom.

It was a very emotional visit for M. Patients with Alzheimer's can live for years in a healthy body while the disease slowly destroys their brain. You lose this person you love twice: first the personality and mind is gone and then eventually the body will break down as well...and you never know how much longer they will be with us.

Later that day...we came back to the hotel we were staying at and decided to just crash and relax. M needed time to herself and her emotions - we can always come back again and spend more time with her family.

Now - every time I hear that Corey Heart song, I will think of Jeannie and remember that spark in here eyes and the dance in her heart.

6 comments:

Wyldth1ng said...

Hope the best.

the only daughter said...

Thank goodness for the memories.

May Peace be with you all.

dive said...

Oh, Shazza; that's a real heartbreaker. I'm so sorry.
At least she still has music.

Sharkb said...

Damn, that's rough. Best to you and M.

Presbyfruit said...

How awful. I can't imagine what it must be like.

jlb said...

i watched my mom watch her mom deteriorate from alzheimers. my grandmother was only in her fifties....it was heartbreaking...
j.