They say that what we do in life echoes in eternity.
But how does that apply to Alzheimer’s patients? Sometimes it seems there are two lives for Alzheimer’s patients – one before the disease takes hold and one after.
I always thought that Alzheimer’s left people as skeletons of their former personalities. But the truth is more devious – the disease seems to dilute or exacerbate personality traits in some cases and give people completely different personalities in others.
I sat down with Marlene and her Alzheimer’s affected mother, Angie, one afternoon.
“I’ll warn you now.” Marlene said. “My mother’s life wasn’t happy.”
“Not all lives are happy.” I said. “I think it’s important that we share the good and the bad.”
“Yeah but it was terrible and she was downright mean.”
I paused. I wasn’t used to hearing this sort of feedback. At the end of someone’s life, people usually remember the good aspects of their loved ones.
“Well.” I stuttered. “Let’s just talk and see what happens.”
She told me the story, which you can read below. Warning: it is sad and heartbreaking.
But it’s what happened AFTER Marlene told me the story of her mother’s life that compelled me to include it on my site. It was maybe the most tragically beautiful thing I’ve heard during my time writing these stories. It is a reminder that you are never too old to become kind.
I’ve included those comments in the ‘Goose Chronicles Outtakes’ below.
I hope you enjoy.
Goose Chronicles Note – Angie is currently suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s disease. All of the details for this story were provided by Angie's daughter, Marlene.
Angie was born in Puerto Rico to a Spanish mother and Puerto Rican father. Her parents separated while she was young and Angie and her two brothers moved to Spanish Harlem.
Growing up the family didn't always have food.
“Look at that chicken over there.” Angie said as she walked to the trash bin and lowered her brother in. “Over there behind the blue piece of plastic.” She inhaled through her mouth so the smell of rotting food wouldn’t make her lose her appetite.
“There’s still meat on it.” Her brother said. “And two apples over here.”
When her brother collected the chicken and the apples Angie pulled him out of the garbage and they went home to eat.
Angie could deal with going hungry, but when her stepfather started acting strange she had to speak up.
One afternoon, after she got out of the shower, she pulled her mother aside.
“What is it?” Her mother asked as she dried the back of Angie’s head with a towel.
“Pop watches me when I shower.”
“When you shower?”
Angie nodded her head. “Every day.”
Her mother frowned, turned away and never spoke of it again.
When the voyeurism devolved into sexual abuse Angie moved out of the house.
Angie met her first husband, Dennis, at a dance party. The first four or five years were good, but things went south when Marlene was born.
“Can’t you stop that god damn baby from crying?!” Dennis yelled as he threw a beer bottle across the room.
One day Angie came home from getting a root canal. Dennis was waiting for her in the elevator bank of their apartment, still angry over a small argument they’d had earlier in the day. He beat her unconscious. When Angie’s brothers found out they tracked Dennis down, broke his jaw and dropped him off at the hospital.
Angie cared for her brothers, but they were both deeply troubled.
One day Angie came home from work and her neighbor rushed over.
“Daniel broke into my house again.” The woman cried. “We don’t want to call the police but you need to get him out of there.”
Angie sighed a heavy sigh and tracked her brother down, pulling him out of the shattered apartment like she’d once pulled him out of rotting garbage bins. He needed the money for his heroin addiction. Eventually he died from cirrhosis of the liver. Her other brother Melvin, who also had substance abuse issues, died of a heart attack in their apartment.
One day Dennis came home and Angie was gone. The violence finally made her set out to start a new life.
Angie was a dedicated worker, always working more than one job to make ends meet. She was a seamstress in the garment district – it was hard manual labor and she was cantilevered over the machines for hours every day. Decades later her back still retained the arc in which she stood for all those years. On the side she sold ceramic statues door-to-door and children’s clothing at the aqueduct flea market. At night she worked the night shift at White Castle or as a cocktail waitress.
She was working as waitress at a night club in Manhattan on New Year’s Eve when she met Raymond.
“You come her often?”
“Yeah.” Angie laughed. “I work here, don’t I?”
“I hadn’t noticed?” Raymond blushed. “I’m such a dope…”
Raymond had recently come back from Vietnam. Eight months after meeting in the nightclub they were married. But Raymond struggled with PTSD and self-esteem issues and after decades of being the victim, Angie became emotionally abusive towards Raymond.
Marlene begged her step-father to leave her own mother, but he refused to leave Angie’s side.
In her early sixties Angie started showing signs of dementia – she’d always been the breadwinner of the family but now she was the one that needed help.
“You’ve got to go to the hospital Mom.”
“I’ve been fine all these years.” Angie snorted. “I’ll be fine now.”
But she wasn’t fine. Eventually they took her to a hospital but Angie escaped. When they found her she was wearing nothing but a paper gown and the IV cord was still stuck in her arm.
““I was just trying to find a place to smoke.” Angie exclaimed. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
Goose Chronicles Outtakes:
“Were there any positive aspects of your mother’s life or your relationship with your mother?”
Marlene thought about it for a minute.
“She was a survivor. She went through a lot but she always provided for us. She was always into duty and responsibility, but she was downright cold and mean. She never even told me she loved me.”
“Wow.” I shook my head.
“You know something funny though? After getting diagnosed with Alzheimer’s she’s grown compassionate. She has the warmth that she lacked before the diagnosis.”
“What is she doing?”
“Well for one thing, she recently won the ‘funny and compassionate award’ they give out to one of the Alzheimer’s patients each year.” Marlene chuckled and shook her head. “She’s also grown affectionate towards me. At the end of her life she is finally giving the love she never gave me as a child.”
“Now she tells me she loves me. She says, ‘I miss you. I need to see you. I love you.’” Marlene paused. “She never told me any of those things before Alzheimer’s.”
“I guess there is beauty in realizing love at the end of life.”
“Yes. Mom’s at peace now. She’s constantly smiling. She became mellow at the end of her life. And you know what they say: what happens in life echoes in eternity.”