I’ve been robbed several times.
It’s a sickening feeling, having things taken from you. Knowing that someone feels, for whatever reason, that he or she deserves your belongings, no matter how hard you worked for them or how much they mean to you. If I were more “Zen,” I would understand that I don’t need stuff, and I would learn how not to be so attached to it.
I’ve had my wallet stolen, my purse snatched, my home broken into. I’ve gone to the trouble, each time, of making phone calls, having things replaced, taking on insurance in the event that it happens again.
But what do you do when you are in a position where you are being robbed, every day? You can’t move away from it, and there’s no insurance in the world that will cover the loss, and no phone calls you can make to replace what’s been stolen.
And the thief? Can’t be stopped.
Looks like Panettone, doesn’t it? My friend Ben pointed out the resemblance the other day. And I laughed. Laughed at the idea of a Milanese dessert cake inside of my mother-in-law’s head. But it’s a picture of amyloid plaques. These ARE inside my mother-in-law’s head, and they are thieves. In the last 3 1/2 years, they’ve stolen her ability to write her name, read a book, drive a car, make herself a cup of coffee. They’ve stolen her recollection of our names, of how to crochet a blanket, of how to use a fork. They’ve stolen her common sense: she doesn’t know that she’s not supposed to put her underwear on OVER her pants, or put crumbled up cookies in the cat’s food bowl, or stash her mail in the dishwasher.
Caregivers live with this knowledge that we are being robbed, every single day, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. And it’s not just us, obviously. The children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors and former coworkers….they’re all being robbed. My mother-in-law is being robbed, although it gets to a point where she doesn’t seem to mind as much as we do. She seems to cheerfully accept each loss as it disappears, for the most part, until something fires through the plaques and protein tangles, and she remembers that she used to be able to do things on her own, without constant supervision. The fact that she has to have someone with her all day, every day, upsets her during those moments. And she wants an explanation that makes sense to her. She wants to negotiate. And we deny her those things. She’s being robbed AND refused.
Every morning, when we go upstairs to her apartment, we wonder what’s going to be missing. She hides things, puts them in places that make sense only to her, at that moment. The dustpan will be in the stove, or the dishwashing liquid in the cupboard with the peanut butter. She puts heirlooms and antiques out with the trash. We’ve learned to intercept these objects before they hit the curb.
But it’s not just things that I worry about as I head up the stairs. The other day she’d gotten her hair done. I sat across from her at her kitchen table as she ate her lunch, and thought – for a split second – that I could talk to her about her plans for the yard. She looked so much like the mother-in-law I’d known, that I fully expected her to talk about border plants, and soil, and seeds. But she looked at me, puzzled, and said, “You know, nobody told me that my mother died.”
I remember how I felt each time I’d been robbed. Violated, frightened, annoyed, angry, determined to not let it happen again. I feel some combination of these things all the time now, more or less, only determination has been replaced by helplessness. I can’t stop it from happening. I can’t stop her from being robbed. This illness will continue to rob her, and rob her, until she is unable to do anything for herself.
But we can keep things as familiar as possible, for as long as we are able to. We can keep her photo albums out and available. We can keep her diaries on our bookshelves, keep the little crocheted blankets and hats she started before she forgot how to finish them. We can keep the things she intended to give to her granddaughters. I will stay attached to it all. I have to.