Saturday, January 01, 2005


What a weird, surreal, horrific Xmas week! Usually "personal diary" blogs don't interest me or I expect many of the readers who visit here, but anyone reading, please indulge me… it seems pretty hard to get down to discussing matters literary after a week like this.

After celebrating Xmas day with my girlfriend, took the train down to Toronto to be with my parents, or rather my mother and this strange semblance of a father, whose cerebral cortex has been largely eaten up by Alzheimers. Brought plenty of books, but not my laptop, as I wanted to "be with them." Well, I did my best. (Or did I? Perhaps I should have stayed longer than the four seemingly interminable days I was there… brought more, camped out… yes, that would have been better. But, well, things seemed to be on an even keel when I made my travel arrangements, and my sister and I have already made a couple of recent emergency trips to straighten things out…)

As the situation stands now, it's very bad. My mother could snap at any moment. As the sole caregiver (I live in Montreal, my sister in Winnipeg), very isolated and without any real friends, she is being driven to her wit's end. Given her anxious nature and certain inflexibilities in her personality, it's more than she can cope with. But it would be a serious challenge for anyone. She is of course going through a huge grieving process as well. 3 days a week, he has been going to a centre for Alzheimer's …. However, during the Xmas period, the centre has closed down. For the last several months, the Alzheimer's society has been promising to organize a support group for caregivers, but never seems to be able to do it somehow.

Over the last few months, my father's decline has been precipitous. Once a high school English teacher, in his pre-alzheimer life he was an eloquent man; at this point he can hardly say a word. Once an avid reader, he can no longer follow a newspaper article beyond the first few sentences, which he immediately forgets. Withdrawn, he cannot initiate conversation or summon up words for anything really, except to occasionally heap abuse on my mother as she waits on him hand and foot. Physically still quite robust, he looks younger than his 80 years. She, at 78, is tiny, frail, has osteoporosis in every limb, and needs more rest.

Typical interaction:

Scene: Interior. Living room. Through picture window, looking out on non-descript suburban houses, heavy snow coming down. Time: day (early afternoon.)

MOTHER reading TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL. BRIAN, sitting in chair, also reading GLOBE & MAIL. FATHER sits in chair, staring into space. Stands up, starts walking restlessly around the house. Goes to closet in hallway. Takes out winter coat, slowly puts it on, puts on hat. Walks into living room.

Mother: Why did you put on your coat?

Father doesn't answer.

Mother: What are you going to do?

Father: Gonna go out.

Mother: You can't go out. You'll get lost.

Father: Get lost?

Mother: Yes, you'll get lost. You'll forget where you're going. I have to go out with you.

Father: I can go out. You don't have to tell me…

Mother (anxiety rising in her voice…) We just went out this morning.

Father: This morning…?

Mother: Yes, we did. Look outside. You can't go out in that! Take off your coat! Take…

Father: Just… shut up! SHUT UP, you stupid goddam WOMAN!

Mother (to Brian): See how he talks to me?

Brian: You shouldn't talk to her like that.

FATHER stands there, waiting. He looks almost philosophical as he considers BRIAN's words.

Mother: (real concern in her voice): You have to take off your coat, you can't wear it inside.

Father doesn't move, sits down.

Mother: Look …

Brian: If he wants to wear his coat, let him wear his coat.

Mother: But he'll get hot.

Brian: Let's just read the paper. Let him keep his coat on. We'll see.

For ten minutes BRIAN and MOTHER read the paper. FATHER sits in his coat and hat. It's quite distracting, of course, for both readers. BRIAN actually gets involved in the article he is reading. He's reading the front section, full of gruesome photos of the tsunami disaster in South East Asia which had happened the day before. BRIAN raises his head back at FATHER. FATHER is still sitting. Brian gets up.

Brian: Are you hot?

Father (no answer, but he looks at BRIAN)

Brian: You must feel hot. Do you want me to help you take off your coat? Here, I'll help you take off your coat.

FATHER slowly unbuttons his coat, as BRIAN lifts it off his shoulders.

Brian: Here, stand up, I'll help you take it off.

FATHER stands up. He looks BRIAN in the eyes, is if gratefully.

Brian: It must be hot for you. Here, let me take off your hat.

BRIAN sits down after putting the coat and hat in the hallway closet. BRIAN looks at MOTHER as if to say "See?" BRIAN and MOTHER continue reading.

At this point, Dad can still dress and bathe himself, although he sometimes forgets to put on things, or puts them on backwards. At supper, after dessert, he started to eat the teabag. She told him not to. For the first time, he left some excrement on a chair in the study rather than in the toilet. I'm trying to persuade Mom (although he still seems aware enough that I don't like to talk about him in front of him), to put him in a private facility until the public institutions become available. I'm quite expecting to make another emergency trip …

Of course, after the first few hours of our visit, my mother and I didn't have anything new to tell each other. I read a lot, visited a couple of friends, and watched the CNN reports about the tsunamis. Had trouble sleeping at night, as all the images of devastation, bloated corpses and wailing survivors swam before my eyes. Found myself imagining being on one of those beaches … lying on the sand, seeing this big white surf in the distance, standing up, wondering what sort of spectacle this might be, is it in one of the guidebooks? Then being mesmerized as the wall of water comes toward me at tremendous speed, turning tail and running when it shows no sign of letting up, then WOOSH!

Eclectic Refrigerator is dealing with the tsunamis disaster in a more poetic way in a new poetry blog he calls Straightaway Dangerous.

To donate to the relief effort via Canadian relief organizations, scroll down on this page at
For international donations, Straightaway Dangerous has a useful link.

Whatever your faith, send your strongest prayers if you are at all capable of making them. They will work even if they don't. (For now, I'll leave you to figure that one ... I do practice a form of Buddhism...)

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