I think the movie is titled, “Still Alice”. I happened to see it about the time when my father first started showing signs of dementia. Today he sits in a nursing home and no longer recognizes anyone he used to know . . . including his sons.
I liked the movie, but said at the time the title should have been, “Not Alice Anymore”. Because Alice at the end of the movie was not the same person she had been at the beginning of the movie.
The movie led me to thinking about how your plans for what you will do when your mind starts going are not going to work. When your mind changes, you are no longer the same person who decided that you would give up driving before you became a danger to yourself and the community, or end your life rather than live with a mind like swiss cheese.
My father discussed his desires not to live rather than live a life with no memories, or being a burden to others. I listened to him talk about these things about a year before I realized that he had started losing mental capabilities and memories. He had not admitted it to anyone yet. I didn’t know it when he first told me about this, but he had already started to have moments when he couldn’t remember how to get home from the store in the small town where he had lived for over 90 years. He would drive around in a spiral pattern until he recognized a building or landmark that would help him get back. Like Alice, he learned a lot of techniques and methods to compensate for the little lost moments. He wrote more notes to himself. He learned to lean into telling stories as a way to change the subject if he couldn’t remember the answers to questions from doctors or tellers or cashiers. He learned how to pay a cashier if he forgot what denominations of money meant. He would simply reach into his wallet and place a bill in the hand of the cashier and watch their face. If they took the bill and remained holding out their hand, he placed another bill in it and watched their reaction. If the cashier took the latest bill and started making change, he was done. But even while this was going on, he was still his normal self most of the time. That led him, as well as those around him, to ignore the rare dementia moments. . . until they began to create dangerous situations and eventually dominate his thoughts.
Today, it is very sad. He sits in nursing care with no idea who he is and apparently does not recognize any of his many, many friends who have tried to visit him. I am certain, based on our conversations from several years ago, that if he could look at his existence today from the perspective he held then, he would choose to kill himself rather than go on living like he is. He said that back then. It would have made him very unhappy to see his existence today. But, of course, he doesn’t have the same mind that did that analysis a few years ago. He simply doesn’t have the mental ability to even think about those things today.
What’s the right thing to do for him - for this new person who doesn’t even know who I am - now? I am sure I don’t know. It kills me to think of the man that used to occupy that body and mind no longer able to take care of himself, or understand the world around him. He was a pretty smart, analytical, accomplished, and very well liked person. He deserves better than this. But, of course, that man is already gone. In his place is this person who doesn’t know who he is or who I am. This new person is almost impossible to communicate with. He is unable to complete even the simplest of tasks. He is often frustrated and confused. He seems miserable. I don’t even know how to love him the way I loved my father and our shared history and experiences are no longer shared by him.