What Today Brings
“When you learn, teach. when you get, give.” Maya Angelou
“What are these, pink, blue, yellow, white? I don’t take this many pills!” Yes, you do, I reply. “Pink, blue, yellow, white… all of these?” My aunt asks. Yes, I tell her, it’s the medicine you take every day. “I don’t take these every day! One two, three, four, five, all of these?” Yes, I tell her again, you do. “One, two, three, four, five, what are they?” I explain there is a blood pressure pill, two memory pills, an appetite and a pain killer. “I feel great about appetite!” I know, I smile. “Okay, here goes nothin’!” she says, chasing them with water.
So went the mind boggling repetitive first years of my Aunt Toss’s journey with Alzheimer’s. We played that game twice a day and in between had a daily battle when she thought she lost her cat. “Have you seen Ice, Ice, Icy? Do you know Ice, Ice, my cat Icy? Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” I tell her the cat is hiding in the other room but she frantically searches. “She usually sits in the closet right there and sits on a pad of something. She’s not going to go away or anything, did Maya? Maya? Mada? I have to go in the other room! If I was in there with a dog, then the dog, I’d try to push up on the dog but I don’t know what we should do. I wonder if it would be better to bring her in here?” Eventually the cat appeared and all was well for another short stint.
It has been almost ten years since my aunt’s diagnosis and she is going strong. There is a team of people that showers her with hugs and keep her laughing big raucous laughs. They cook her wonderful meals she gobbles up. We all take her on drives which she loves, because she will tell you, “I love it when we drive!” Yesterday, we tooled around in the sunshine around Pisgah Pike. “Beautiful,” she exclaimed over and over about the land she secured for the rest of us.
Toss Chandler, Libby Jones and Mary Anne McCauley were three of the biggest figures involved in the 1980s when Woodford County was under siege from developers. After a tireless effort, the women got the Pisgah area on the National Register of Historic Places, making it all but impossible to change its character.
I wrack my brain as to why she had two totally different lives, brilliant artist, activist and lover of all things and delicate, helpless woman whose life literally depends on the kindness of strangers. What could she be learning when she no longer remembers the simplest of tasks, drinking from a sippy cup or stepping over the lip from one room to the other? Possibly she is finished learning and she is now teaching us.
She is teaching her family, friends and every caregiver she comes across how to take care of another human being, how to be gentle and respectful even when they are tired and out of patience.
Aunt Toss was my artistic hero as a child, a teenager and young adult but now I count her as one of my best friends, an angel and the teacher who showed me how to reach deep inside myself and realize so more about life.