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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.


This is a little different from most of our posts, but it's a beautifully written piece that raises some of life's most difficult questions. In fact, I'm going to post it on both of our blogs, for while the topic of Alzheimer's certainly belongs here, other issues raised in this tale beg for discussion in Life Ethics.

One morning late last year I awoke from a dream about writing a book, and the storyline was detailed: an older woman, recently diagnosed with dementia, had enlisted  the help of a younger man, perhaps her son, to guide her on a hike into the mountains, where she intended to let herself die by exposure to the elements.  They had to hide the reason for their mission from her family, but were both convinced of the rightness of what they were doing.

It wasn’t a bad dream, on the contrary, I was quite intrigued about such a story because it linked two things that have long interested me – the right to die, and the looming pandemic of Alzheimer’s.  In fact, it seemed like a clear message to get the lead out and write about it.  And as if the message needed reinforcing, later that same day I had an experience that seemed coincidental at the time, and made the dream eerily prophetic in hindsight.

That afternoon, while driving to an appointment, my favourite Belgian spotted our neighbour Sophie walking along the road to the next village, a book tucked under her arm.  Although we hadn’t seen much of her in recent months, we knew she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he was surprised to see her out alone.  When he stopped to ask if she was all right, she said she was on her way to meet her husband.
Unconvinced of her explanation, FB called me to ask if I could come and pick her up. 
Sophie didn’t blink an eye when I turned up.  Just in case she had the story right, I drove her around for a little while looking for her husband.  She chatted easily and issued a constant stream of almost expressionless directives, every short phrase with the same arc of inflection and always ending with my name.  Be careful at this corner, Deborah. Watch your speed, Deborah. Turn left at this intersection, Deborah.  You drive smoothly, Deborah.  Finally it seemed like the best thing to do was leave a phone message for her husband and go back to my house to wait for his call. 
It was a cool afternoon: while the kettle boiled, I built up the fire.  Sophie commented on how well it caught: You make a good fire, Deborah. Oh that’s funny, I laughed, because my FB and I once had a ridiculous argument about the way I had laid the fire, not bothering with the small bits, and of course it didn’t take properly. He wanted to teach me how to do it in Boy Scout fashion and didn’t believe me when I said I knew all about the proper way to set a fire.  I’ll tell him on Wednesday that you know how to make a good fire, Deborah. (Sophie played boules every other week with a group that included FB, and if her dementia had robbed her of her ability to calculate the score, her enthusiasm for the game was unaffected).

When I set the tea tray down, she eyed the oatmeal cookies sceptically: They don’t look like anything a French person would eat, Deborah. I wasn’t offended: Sophie had a fine reputation as a sophisticated cook, and did not suffer inferior food with diplomacy. The back of the kitchen cupboard yielded a box of iconic French biscuits, but when I returned with them, Sophie was already into the second cookie. These are superb, Deborah. I’d like the recipe, Deborah. All told, she ate fifteen of them.

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