It’s a Friday afternoon in Montevideo, Uruguay. We’re in the heart of Carrasco, the beautiful neighborhood of town, it’s 35 degrees centigrade outside but it’s cool and busy inside.
There’s electricity in the seven pm air here, while girls and ladies go through their pre-party preparations. There is a farewell do for one, a fiesta de quince for another two, a wedding, a funeral and a dinner-date. Most of these parties will start late, probably around 10 or 11. The funeral must be early Saturday morning.
Hand-held hair dryers turn on and off in a weird concerto of fireless dragons’ breaths.
I brought Mum for the pampering and she’s loving it. I’m sitting in a corner where she can’t see me and she’s already forgotten I was with her. She’s loving the ambience and every bit of the loud, friendly Uruguayan flavor. Tired and dragging when we arrived, she’s now smiling, interested and quite different to the Mum who walked in half an hour ago.
Alzheimer’s sucks. No matter which way you look at it, it sucks. It’s robbed her of her treasured memories, her abilities and worst of all her independence. So this is a situation where Mum flourishes. This one-on-one attention with a kind stranger, who poses no threat and puts on no pressures of “Do you remember …” or “Didn’t you know?” It’s all about her. The hands are on her, the eyes are on her and it makes the sun come out in Mum’s soul.
With a head full of pink and green curlers, her silver hair shining and twinkling in the salon’s bright lights, she’s lost in the now of herself. No one judging, no one pushing, no complicated conversation to keep up with.
I revel in these moments, because she finds peace, she can let down the guard, which is constantly up, like a boxer’s fists with a blindfold on. She never knows where it’s going to come from and sometimes she cuts and jabs into thin air. Then she realizes … drops her fists and her eyes cloud over, appalled and saddened – she’s done it again. She knows she’s forgotten something else.
“People should have a ‘use-by-date’” she said today after she dropped her delicious dulce de leche ice cream outside Las Delicias.
“Really?” I said, trying to help and making light of the accident.
She knows. She’s mortified.
“Yes, a ‘use-by-date’ for silly old people like me,” she said cleaning off the side that had touched the floor.
“I see … and when would yours be?” I asked.
“Tomorrow,” she said with a rueful smile. “I’m such a useless person, una chambona.”
I stroke her hand and look into her eyes, which are focused on the floor, “Look at me,” I whisper, “Look at me, Mummy.” I put my ice cream down to take her face in my hands, slowly, gently so as not to startle her and her hazel green eyes come up to meet my blues, the blue of my father’s eyes, “that’s rubbish and you know it. You’re fishing for a compliment, aren’t you? We’re having an adventure, we’re here, thousands of miles away from England – let’s not spoil it with a ‘use-by-date.’ OK?”
The rollers are off and she’s thrilled. I think she forgotten all about her use-by-date idea, because she stands up, beaming. She looks terrific and as I walk up to meet her, she smiles, radiating that sunshine which so often is hiding these days.
“I’m ready, Noony! I’m ready for another adventure.”
Sucks to you Alzheimer's, we're having another adventure and we don't care if you're coming or not.