Oops! As a writing teacher, I can frequently forget my own words of wisdom when trying to get my own writing done. In the case of this blog, I said that transforming a blog into a book was terrific because blogs usually dealt with what was happening immediately and therefore the information was fresh with plenty of details. Then I promptly forgot that, and started writing about the past, the deep past. Today, I intend to correct that with this next post which will be about my older sister who has been going down the path a short term memory loss, the first step in the disease of Alzheimer’s. To catch up…
At this point, it has been happening for the past six years. That would have made my sister J, 62 at the time we started noticing. It was probably happening before that, but no one noticed. That’s the way it goes with Alzheimer’s and those that are lucky enough to have genes that tend toward earlier onset.
We figured it out only when she started getting into big financial trouble. She had successfully ran her own business for decades, but now she was suddenly relying on airbnb management? Which didn’t seem like you could make a lot. She had told me she had stashed away money, but then she also admitted she was juggling credit cards by switching to the lowest introductory interest rate for balance transfers. Something I would later call credit card kiting. I remember trying to tell her at the time it doesn’t matter how low the interest rate you get because you are still accumulating debt and it compiles, and she’d be wise to pay off her debt. She didn’t seem to understand. She had no money stashed.
This would later lead to her landlords taking her to court for unpaid rent and us guiding her into bankruptcy. She just couldn’t manage things anymore. She couldn’t grasp what she was doing that might get her in trouble, she ignored things. She just didn’t have the hustle I remember her having. However, we didn’t really notice because there were a few things that she’d always done in her life. One, is being careless and devil may care including with money, two is, not wanting to learn anything new, and three, though not a symptom, was struggling with bad eating habits, much like my own, but worse. Any research on Alzheimer’s and dementia you will see that these things are a triple threat combination. In order for your brain to develop new synapses, new nueral pathways, it must be constantly learning and focusing. Learning is the muscle that keeps the brain in shape. Having a diligent attitude toward learning and also health, including exercise and diet, is crucial. Sugar junkies like my sister and I, do not have great chances.
I had a long term care nurse tell me if you see dints and dings on all four sides of the car, then it is time to think about taking her car/license away. But, I explained, that I couldn’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t have dings on all sides of her car. She has always been a kind of bad driver. This became a big issue as my other sister, T, took over J’s finances (with power of attorney) and kept her bankruptcy on track. No mean feat to do with someone who can’t remember to keep her receipts.
T had been trying to get her to give up her car, because of the drain on her finances more than whether we were sure she (had ever) been competent to drive. Finally it came to a natural head because the car died and it wasn’t worth fixing. But we had to persuade her to sell it which was a problem because a “friend,” a street person who mooches off her, had convinced her that the engine was worth a lot of money and he knew someone who would be interested in buying it. This went on for months with her insisting this was going to happen. It never did. Meanwhile we explained that the insurance was costing her money every month, but she just couldn’t fathom that. T finally got the insurance changed to storage which saved her a bit, and then I managed to get somebody who was willing to haul the car away and give a bit of money for it. Given it was in a very difficult spot in the underground, we were grateful. J was somewhat pissed at us but it solved two problems with one stone; no monthly debit on her finances and no temptation to drive again.
It was after she wasn’t driving that I spotted a Alzheimer’s clinical trial ad for those that had Alzheimer’s run in their family. I arranged for appointments for both of us back to back. It was a half day of testing. As expected, I aced the tests and she did not. The year before, I had already administered to her a MOCA test (made famous after they gave one to Trump, which does not test for narcissism or lack of education), and knew that she was five points under with no short term memory left. But that had been the year before and the tests at this clinical trial offices was much more advanced.
There was a large contract she took home and we discussed it. Eventually, they would say that particular trial was not appropriate for her, but they found another one, more on that later.
Because I moved after that and am now in a city that she used to live in, hours away, we decided maybe she could make her way there by public transit. So, last year, she came to visit me with a team effort of her roommate dropping her off at the train, but she had to transfer onto the buses and one ferry herself and I was to meet her at the exit stop. She had her phone with her so she could call us at any time. That part seemed to go without a hitch. But she was freezing when she arrived since she hadn’t reall dressed properly for October.
This would be the first time I had spent an extended amount of time with her in a long time. This visit would tell me a lot.
This is a good first draft that catches me up to the almost present, but you can see how there are many places where I could have expanded a lot more. In fact, I couldn’t decide whether to talk about her visit with me after I’d moved, or more about the clinical trial. One is still ongoing, where the visit is in the recent past. These are the kinds of things in Memoir writing that you may have to juggle around and put in the right places later. No one, but no one, keeps their first draft as it is. Myself included.
Next post, I will jump forward to more recent events, because if you think you must write chronologically you are dead wrong.