Several years ago, when my mother first realized she had trouble remembering things, she would wonder aloud if she had “that disease old people get — you know, what’s it called?”

Alzheimer’s Disease.

Even then, when she did think of the name, her mind either refused or was unable to wrap itself around its meaning. Instead, it led her somewhere else, to some irrelevant or slightly skewed concern of the moment.

And the days passed, and the weeks, and the months, and the years — time that has left scarcely a trace in her memory, and which, from the standpoint of purpose and accomplishment, is hardly worth remembering.

Now I rub her legs and feet early in the morning, and talk her back to sleep after she is awakened by a bad dream or a loud noise in the neighborhood. When she is especially frightened and asks me if she is dying, I say, “No, I really don’t think so,” and tell her she will feel better after she rests awhile longer. Before long, she drifts off, and when I am sure she is asleep again I tiptoe out of the room.

Until she is up for the day, I spend the morning listening. I listen at five o’clock. I listen at six, seven, and eight. I listen and listen. Often, whether I hear anything or not, I check on her from the hall. I listen to her breathe. I listen to the house creak. I listen to the neighbors leave for work. I listen to the birds, to the breeze, and to the traffic in the distance.

I also listen in my sleep, which I have gradually learned to do without, and now regard as a past and future luxury.

I am listening now, fully aware that I might not be able to finish this sentence.

July 21, 2006

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