We all change. We grow older, get fat, lose weight, lose hair, buy new hair. That’s life.
What if change is internal. You can’t see it, but you hear it.
Slow as the Waikiki surf, my Aunty’s memory is washing away because of Alzheimer’s disease. Some days she’s chipper and sharp. She can recall stories of covering first-base for the Farrington High All Women’s Softball League. Other days she forgets her son called from California, as he does everyday. She cries because she thinks he’s forgotten her.
Aunty. A slideshow of her life flashes through my mind.
Picture#1: Aunty, standing in the middle of a softball field before she got married. Softball in one hand, glove in the other. Chestnut hair, slightly wavy, cropped close to her head. An athlete’s cut for easy care. A swath of red lipstick colors her lips. She’s wearing a short sleeved button front blouse and dark peddle-pushers. Her barefeet display painted toenails. She’s fit, tanned and gorgeous as a beauty queen.
Picture#2: Aunty holding her first born. A son. Baby’s christening. Fully made-up, she’s wearing a dress with capped sleeves, cinched waist. White patten leather Sunday go-to-meetin’ pumps on her feet.
Picture#3: Aunty unpacking boxes in their new house. She’s moved from Hawaii to California with husband and two babies. Twinkling eyes say she’s ready for adventure.
Picture#4: Ten years later, Aunty repacking. Determination and resolve in her huge brown eyes. She’s moving back home. Her mother has Alzheimer’s disease. A blended family – three generations – will live under one roof.
I write: How are you. How’s the new house?
Aunty answers: Great. You and the kids should come for a visit.
Picture#5: Aunty smiling into the camera. She’s at a dinner party wearing a sleeveless sundress, a carnation lei around her neck; her mother on her left, her husband on her right. Couples behind them dancing – men in Aloha shirts, women in sophisticated sheaths.
I call: Who got married?
Aunty answers: Cousin Sherry. Beautiful wedding. You should have come. We gossiped into the night.
Picture#6: Aunty at dusk, the Pacific Ocean behind her. Wind tossed greying hair. She’s holding a kettle lid while Uncle drops crabs into steaming water.
Aunty calls: Family reunion. Your uncle charted the family genealogical line. We’re related to the royal twins who guarded King Kamahameha, you know. We dissolved into giggles.
Picture#7. Aunty placing a maile leaf lei around her son’s shoulders. He’s graduating from high school, headed off to college in California. Her lips smile, but her eyes do not.
Aunty calls: He’s going to the mainland and will never come home to live again. As long as he’s happy so are we. That winter her mother died in a rest home. Alzheimer’s robbed her of speech and recognition of her four children.
Picture#8. A weary faced Aunty sits in a Las Vegas hotel room. Her dying husband wanted one last trip to Vegas. A small band of California cousins assemble for a farewell dinner.
Aunty calls: Here’s my cellphone number. I know you’re busy, but call me when you can. Want to keep in touch. Son calls every Sunday to be sure we’re all right.
Picture#9. Aunty, a black veil covers her face. Her life-long companion is dead.
Aunty calls: My girlfriends from work are meeting me for lunch. Now that I’m retired it’s our way of keeping in touch. We have so much to talk about.
I dial her cellphone number. Leave a message. Days pass. No return call.
Mom calls: Talked to your Aunty today. She asked why you don’t call her.
Picture#10. Aunty at family reunion. Her lined face reflects major changes.
Again, I dial her cellphone number. Leave a message. Months pass. No return call.
Her son calls: Talked to Mom today. She asked why you don’t call anymore.
Aunty is 65-yrs-old. She lives virtually alone. The granddaughter she helped raise says Aunty is forgetful so they can’t let her cook. Her daughter says she gets lost so they won’t let her drive. Her son calls everyday, but she can’t remember talking with him so she feels neglected and abandoned.
In a Christian song by Joe Purdy he sings, “. . . I had friends oh, but not today, Cause they’re done washed away . . . ”
A bandit called Alzheimer’s is robbing Aunty of independence, self-confidence and love. She has no way of fighting the thief. And we, her family, can do nothing but watch as her brain washes us out of her life.