A photograph from last Sunday of my mother. She has had Alzheimer's for a couple of years. We're in the kitchen. We have coffee and she pours hot water over the brewed coffee, then strain it with a tea strainer, right down into the cup. Sometimes she wants milk in. Not always. She thinks it tastes better like this, she says. I abstain. She makes herself a sandwich with honey, but then forgets it on the kitchen counter and asks who it is in the photograph that she has there on the wall.
It's Irena and Nathanael.
Yes, Nathanael's mother you know?
I answer and pick up the sandwich she forgot she wants to eat. We sit down again. Fikar. I look at her, she who is my mother, who we are for each other now and have been. Who is she, who am I to her? The answers vary, changing from moment to moment now. She talks to me differently in a matter of minutes. Sometimes I'm her son, sometimes I'm some kind of friend, maybe I'm her husband too? Uncertain. I'm trying to guess. Sometimes I succeed. It creates anxiety, also having constant readiness, trying to respond based on her needs, rather than what is true… true for me.
By the way, what does it matter if something is true if it creates further anxiety for her? So I try my best to step into her world of worries, dangers and sometimes joys. She talks about things I have never heard of, and over time I have increasingly given up trying to understand, whether they are real memories or just pure inventions. It's all at once. All in a mess. Brain ghosts. So yes, what does it matter if I point out what is true or not? No, it just creates further frustration, insecurity and anxiety for my mother.
Trying to find the balance in me. Not to be involved personally, not to be personally involved. It is difficult and does not always succeed. She's my mother. I'm her son. Everything becomes personal, although Alzheimer's makes contact difficult and sometimes incomprehensible. But we can reach each other on a sincere, non-verbal level. If I'm kind, loving. If I stay calm. Sometimes I succeed.
Alzheimer's makes conversations seem logical, clear at first, but then completely subtle, the uncertainty comes and suddenly I find myself in free fall performing in our interactions. It is important to be on your guard, have your emotions in control and not be involved personally. Although it is really impossible. Because it's personal. Even though it must not be too much, not too much let it be emotional for me, it is still so, I am the son of my mother. How can it not be personal? Still, I try to make myself a person who has love for almost, more generally. It does not always succeed and it hurts just as much every time I leave. Because I'm her son, even though she's not always my mother anymore, even if she is. Always. Not being able to reach her anymore is part of not getting an end. We are not always privileged to have it, I know. After ability I am present, kind, understanding, after ability I succeed. But as I said, not always. After all, I'm her son.
Mother is fine under the circumstances, even though she is too lonely. At the same time, she does not want to go on the activities I try to arrange. They start too early in the morning or she thinks it's crazy for old people there. She, who herself turned ninety, thinks they are too old! Her body is okay. She often walks five kilometers a day, at least! She needs that too, otherwise she will be too worried. Sitting still, being inactive, does not suit her!
If we walk together, I do not have to go slowly, rather the opposite. The aunt has a great speed! Alzheimer's does not affect the body, only the brain. The memory in the vicinity sometimes lasts only a few minutes, the conversations can easily end up in a spin of repetition. We see each other every other day, always calling at least five times a day. Always. Least. I always answer because it can be something serious. Dare not give up. Although, to be honest, I sometimes do. Usually it is confusion when she calls, she needs help to understand, needs to calm down. She needs security.
What time is it?
Is your son at home?
He is in school.
Where's my dog?
Tanja is no longer living as a mother, that was many years ago.
There's a man standing outside the door!
Let him stand, he does nothing.
What time is it?
Quarter past twelve.
Where is my dog…. ”
Relationship to parents, so is my experience, is rarely uncomplicated. Mother who lived through a world war i.a. in a bunker in Hamburg, a city that was almost leveled to the ground, does not see life from a safe point. On the contrary. Post traumatic.
"It was black with airplanes in the sky." She told about the Allied bombers. She was around ten and I felt the presence of the corpses, buried in ruins, when she told about what she experienced. The bunker she was sitting in could withstand pressure waves from direct hits. It stood on steel springs, she said. Not all bunkers were designed that way and if they were hit without steel springs, the pressure from the detonations could cause the lungs to explode on the people who sought refuge there.
This is what my mother says and that one of the siblings always kept a place in the bunker, the alarms came more and more frequently and in the end there were not many minutes between alarms and bombs. Anyone who wants to google can use the bunkers in Hamburg. Monster of concrete. At the top some kind of cannon to shoot down the Allied planes with. The good versus the bad become a much more complicated issue when it comes to children. Mom has told a lot about that time, about the fear of the Nazis who took over, about the November pogrom -38. But also about closeness to the siblings. They were ten and two extra children that her mother took in, it is unclear where their parents had gone. But it's a different story than the one going on right now. Although to some extent connected.
Is your son at home?
He is a mother at school.
What time is it?
A quarter to one.
Shall we go out for a while?
I say and clap her hand.
My name is Henry Bronett and if you want to read more about me, see my photos or get in touch with me, I can be reached most easily at ...