The smell of old, dusty books reminds me of my late mother. A devoted collector and avid reader, she had many books, most of which went unread. She owned books on everything from history to travel to sets of poems and essays, great literature, folk tales and romances. When I enter one of her hangouts, such as Allison’s Book Store, I am carried back to a time when each of us was happy in our own ways of the world. I see her standing by a shelf, thumbing through a novel, or researching through a medical journal, or opening her purse to pay for yet another purchase, knowing full well dad would lecture her on “wasting money on books you never read anyway!”
Strolling past rows and rows of books, I remember how, after the Alzheimers struck, she came less often and read fewer books. They became just part of the scenery, collecting only dust and memories.
Near the end, perhaps knowing she would never get to read them all, she gave almost all of the books away, keeping only a few and treating them with an almost holy reverence, as if any crease or mar would destroy them totally. Gone was the woman who would brush aside a huge coffee stain, replaced by one who would fly into terrible rages at a bent corner or creased spine.
One of the saddest recollections I have of my mother was in her late stages of Alzheimers. Instead of her bright smile and cheerfulness, her body was fixed as she sat in her favorite easy chair next to the wall of books, but her eyes drifted aimlessly all around the room. I still recall staring at her pale white skin and soft yet empty brown eyes, expressionless of any notice of me, her once favorite daughter. I could see her trying desperately to find remembrance in my face and to break free of the darkness she must be feeling. But there was distance growing between us still and I had no idea what to say or do and felt completely powerless to help her recall her memories.
I have read a few of her books now, after she is gone, and each time it brings back a hurt like a wound refusing to heal. Though I suppose it is a quest of sorts, because if I can take on her thirst for knowledge, cheerful smile and willingness to help others, then like a candle in the shadows I could bring a little light into the world for Alzheimer families. If that light touches others, maybe it will ignite the minds and attitudes of people for generations to come. Remember every 70 seconds someone in America develops Alzheimer’s. Support and willingness to keep remembering can make life a little better for the millions living with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers.
I think mom would like that.
Visit: http://www.alzfdn.org/ To learn more about Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and to contribute if you can.