Seeing the Light through Dementia’s Darkness

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

A Special Treat
I have a special treat for you on One Writer’s Journal this week – a guest post by Kristy Robinson Horine.

I met Kristy at the Licking Valley Writers’ Conference when I was signing my books at a writer’s event last fall. At the time, Kristy was the executive director of the conference, but life was about to change for her. While her other three children have long since left babyhood behind, she was excited about expecting her fourth child.

A New Season in Life

Now she’s entered a new season in her life with the care of her baby girl and she’s using this time to explore new options in her writing. Kristy read my posts about my mother’s dementia and very generously sent me a beautiful piece she’d written about the journey into dementia she witnessed her grandmother taking. Not a good journey, but sometimes there is joy in the moments. She found that joy
with her Meme and wrote about it. The photo is of her Meme at a nursing home on one of her last birthdays before she got to go on home to heaven. Can’t you just see her personality shining through the dementia?

Kristy is letting me share her story forward so that her words can perhaps bless those of you who have walked this hard path with your loved ones. In some ways every journey for those suffering dementia is similar, but at the same time, each walk along this
path is also different. But sharing what we experience can help us to see the light between the dark things.

Riding Fences by Kristy Robinson Horine

Momma gave me The Look when they arrived. Papaw had packed Meme into his candy apple red Toyota and bumped along country roads to our house. It must have been pretty bad this time. I urged Meme toward the door.

“Come look at the garden I planted Meme,” I said. I grabbed both of her hands and steadied her down the brick steps, across the cistern, down a concrete block step, and into the yard. Meme puffed hard, wheezing. After a few steps, we stopped to rest.

Inside, Papaw was telling Mom how Meme had removed the gate from the hinges when she couldn’t get out of the padlocked yard. He was telling how she had escaped and told strangers passing by that someone in her house was trying to kill her. He was telling about the conversation with the police officer who didn’t know about Meme and her Alzheimer’s.

Outside, it was just me and a woman who could no longer remember my name.

“Now, I want you to just look out there,” she breathed with her mouth open. “Do you remember when we was in Caden Town?”

I looked at her eyes and knew I would lie. “Yes ma’am,” I said.

“Do you remember how much work it was? Daddy made me work. Would take that razor strap to me if I didn’t do it. You know that Mamaw T and Papaw Tuttle were multi-millionaires, but I thought I had worked my ass off,” she said. I no longer flinched when Meme cussed. Her filters were just about gone, but this time, she had remembered to whisper talk the bad word.

“Yes ma’am,” I said. “They didn’t want for anything, did they?”

She hooked her elbow through mine: us against the world. I didn’t have a clue about Caden Town, but I liked the co-conspirator feeling. Her eyes shined in the sunlight.

“We was born different,” she said. “The two of us.”

“Yes Ma’am,” I said.

The distance to the garden from the house stretched with every wheeze, but we made it. I secretly hoped that Papaw was giving my mother an earful. I also secretly hoped that God wouldn’t answer my prayers to take Meme before she got too bad, right there next to the garden. Meme had gotten a bit heavy since she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. She couldn’t remember that full meant stop. I just
wasn’t certain I could lift her if she hit the ground.

We settled down onto a swinging bench at the edge of the snow peas I planted. I told her about shoveling manure and spreading it around after everything had died off the season before. I told her about running the tiller for the first time ever. I told her about how the wind blew as I hoed my rows, moving the string I had tied up between two broken tobacco sticks. I told her that Papaw said I could plant more in a crooked row anyway. There was something like an apology in my voice. Suddenly, I wanted my garden to be full and thick with fruit. I wanted Meme to see even though I knew she wouldn’t remember. I stopped talking when I realized her mind wasn’t sitting with her body.

“I want you to look out there,” she said. I thought she was going to ask me about Caden Town again.

“Yes ma’am?”

“Do you see how that dark goes like that?” she moved her hand in a horizontal line and wiggled her fingers as if to mimic a flitting bird. “Do you see that dark?”

I squinted into the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of what she described. I shook my head.

“Those dark things there,” she said, waving her hand back and forth, more insistent. “The ones with the light in between.”

Again I looked and realization came at once. “Are you talking about the black fence just on the other side of the garden?”

Her hand relaxed, patted my knee. She exhaled then, after I named the darkness for her. “Yes. Fence. That fence. That’s right. Look there, between them.”

I leaned my head closer to hers, tried to see what she saw, like a child trying to find a single constellation in a sky full of stars.

“That’s what you need to see. The part that’s not dark,” she said. “You need to see the light.”

In that moment, I rode the fence between my reality and hers. In that moment, we both saw the light.

About Kristy

~Writer, teacher, poet, artist, mother and wife, Kristy Robinson Horine has worked as a journalist, studied through the Christian
Writers Guild, and is now a freelance journalist. She writes for Kentucky Monthly and has a couple of blogs, A Kentuckian in Paris,
and Write One Real Life.

Thanks, Kristy

Thank you, Kristy, for sharing. My mother is struggling more each week with communication, but she has begun to hold and talk to a doll and that seems to comfort her. Perhaps it gives her purpose to care for the “baby.” But each smile whether directed toward me or toward the doll is a moment to appreciate when I visit. As Kristy’s Meme said, you need to see the light.