“Do you remember when Amah ate paint?”
How could I forget?
No one had seen it coming, least of all The Champ. Certainly not me.
His palette was a circle of dots of tempera paint on a sheet of freezer paper. Paintbrush in hand, he was mulling his choices before deciding what color to paint the engine compartment of the unfinished balsa wood train.
I thought it was a project we could all focus on together.
She was starting to wander. … He was noticing something had changed. We were together for the afternoon.
Everyone seemed confused and agitated.
Painting, I said to myself, would be a pleasant diversion.
Better than watching TV …
or playing games with complicated sets of rules.
Rules that were changing all the time.
But even as her fingers dipped into the light blue paint and mixed a little with the orange next to it, I thought she was forgoing the brush and painting, literally, by hand.
When the swirl of marbled color disappeared into her mouth, I knew nothing would likely be easy again.
I wiped her hands and her mouth, put away the paints and then redirected my son, who was stunned and angry.
“Let's just play with cars until papa comes back from the store.”
Thinking back, it seemed like something that happened years before ... not just weeks ago.
Thing is this thing that happened to her – first the stroke, and then dementia, and finally delirium – has left us all staring into the high-beams of oncoming disbelief.
It's not as if we had to tell the kids. They already knew.
They could plainly see Amah was different. Her conversations ran on the same loop. Mostly questions that cycled repeatedly: How long had we lived here? How long have you had a pool? I didn't know you had a cat? Your dad has a cat, you know … it just showed up one day … looks just like yours.”
She couldn't remember the answers we gave her minutes ago. She couldn't say our names.
It was happening right in front of us. All I could do was try to explain what they were witnessing, even when I barely knew myself. All I could do was ask them if they were OK … if they had questions … and then answer them as best as I could.
“Amah isn't herself. She's had a brain injury and some things are getting confused. It's not something she can help. We have to be patient.”
But patience isn't something that comes without practice.
I expected The Champ to need lots of patience from me. He was angry and scared and wanting to be far away from her. It was a natural response, and one I didn't try to reform.
I gave him time and space. He didn't want to visit. I didn't make him.
Amah knew she wasn't herself. In between the barrage of questions, which I believe was her own way of trying to make sense of this new state in which she found herself, she wanted to make sure the kids weren't hurt by her forgetting.
“I know them. I know who they are.”
“I know, Ma. They know, too. Try not to worry. Rest … don't try to remember.”
But it was all just slipping away from her grasp.
The Champ can see that now, too. But he's no longer mad.
When he comes with me to visit her, she smiles at him and tells him he's amazing in words that aren't exact translations. I just know what she means and tell him so.
He reciprocates by tossing a ball and helping with her exercises.
I praise everything he does for her. I celebrate every smile he gives her and that she returns.
Being helpful makes him feel good in ways I hadn't really understood he needed.
“I want to visit Amah today, too. I want to tell her I'm sorry for being mad at her.”
“I think she knows, buddy. I really think she knows.”