Alzheimer's, Friendship, Love, Relationships

the lost and found



This post was originally written and first published in May 2013.


Amazing grace. The words “lost and found” always make me think of amazing grace.

Not of lost mittens or keys or caps or a single red shoe. Nor of the “lost and founds” one must call in search of them. No.

“Lost and found” makes me think of amazing grace:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, and now I see…

Be thankful you didn’t have to listen to me sing that off key and out of tune, like my writing-group listeners did. You’ll just have to imagine what it sounded like. (Or not. Probably better not. But you can enjoy seven truly amazing renditions of it here, and a rockin’ bluegrass/country one here or at the very end of this post)

I’m three years short of being six decades young, and I’ve spent a good part of it, maybe even most it, wandering lost through the wilderness of my life. From time to time I’ve been found.

Bobby first found me in a bar, the name of which I don’t remember right now, on Eleventh Avenue (or “Electric” Avenue, as it was known then), in Calgary, in 1986.

I sat at the bar, in the bar, alone, an empty glass in front of me.

I wish I could say I was nursing a drink, but I wasn’t. I was nursing my bruised ego having just been given the cold shoulder by a guy with whom I’d tried to flirt. Flirting I was usually pretty good at despite that night’s #EPIC #FAIL. Nursing? Not so much. Thus it would come as a surprise to find myself nursing my Alzheimer’s-ridden mother twenty-five years later. My grandmother had been a nurse, it was her vocation, but it wasn’t mine. Or so I thought; apparently I was mistaken.

My fifty-something-year-old self hears the “my mother was a nurse” story several thousand times.

My mother was a nurse, you know,” my own dementing Mom tells anyone and everyone over and over and over again a quarter of a century in the future, whether they care to listen or not. I record her telling it once, in a video tribute to my grandmother we jointly make in the summer of 2009. We follow the tribute video with three more in which Mom gives the government of Iran a piece of her mind. That was before she had lost most of it to Alzheimer’s. Despite the onset of the disease well before then, she had enough sense, even if the Iranian government did not, to know torture is wrong.

Mom’s trio of messages to the Iranian regime is prompted by a lost and found of another sort. A couple of months earlier, a stray bullet had found its way into the head of Neda Aga Soltan in a street in Tehran. As life spilled out of Neda thick, red, and fast, a passing doctor tried to stem the deadly flow. Too late. She was lost to this world. Her public death (viewed by millions worldwide) helped fuel the Green Revolution in Iran that summer.

But the revolution , like the Iranian people, was brutally suppressed and a nation found itself no further ahead despite nightly rooftop chants of Allahu Akbar (God is great). God hasn’t been great enough to bestow grace on Iran and its people since Christ was a cowboy. I’ve been lost for only a lifetime, they’ve been floundering unfound for centuries.

Back on Electric Avenue, in the pick-up place the name of which I don’t remember (it may have been Siriani’s…), Bobby (he later told me) noticed the beauty of my eyes reflected in the mirror behind the bar. (How he spotted it between the rows of liquor bottles, is still a mystery. So are the reasons behind the death of our marriage.)

“Do you wanna’ dance?” I heard his voice for the first time. This was back in the day when people still asked instead of melting into anonymous masses of pulsating flesh more like sex with your clothes on than anything my contemporaries called dancing. These days, they call it “bouncing.” Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for (and about) fully clothed sex, as we all learned from Bill and Monica in the 1990s. But that particular two-step was still down the line for Bobby and I.

“No thanks, I’m just about to leave.” I replied. In my mind, I’d already called it a night.

“Aw, c’mon.” He persisted.

“No thanks. I’m on my way.” I lifted the un-nursed glass in front of me, the only thing I thought I’d pick up that night. Not a shard of ice remained.

“See? My glass is empty.” I tipped it upside down for proof. “I was just about to go.”

“C’mon. Just one dance. One dance won’t kill you. C’mon, let’s go.”

I smiled.

“No. Really, I’m on my way. I was just about to leave.”

He returned my smile with an impish Bobby grin. His eyes wrinkled up into little sliver moons, and twinkled. I know that sounds corny, but they did. His shoulders lifted like a little boy caught in the act just before he shrugs and lies: “I don’t know who did it.” One of his front teeth was crooked; it slightly overlapped the other. I could have managed the wrinkled-and-twinkling-sliver-moon eyes and the I-m-the-one-who-done-it-and-I’m-lying shoulders. But the slightly overlapping front tooth did me in. I became found.

“Oh alright,” I relented. “Just one dance. And then I’m off.”

One dance. Eighteen years long.

When Bobby and I walked together we held hands. I don’t know what it feels like to hold hands with a man anymore, or to touch or kiss, softly, gently or hard. I hold hands with my Mom. But that’s different. She’s eighty-four. And she’s my mother. We walked hand in hand like schoolgirls many times during the last year we lived together and I cared for her. Now I take her by the elbow because she’s become pretty shaky on her feet. But when she was physically stable, we held hands and danced with abandon.

I remember the feeling of finding Bobby’s hand when we walked. It was comforting, reassuring, and close. I miss that. Maybe holding hands is what stopped me from getting lost more, or from getting too lost, during our eighteen-year-long dance. Part of me wishes I hadn’t found divorce papers in my mailbox this week, even though we separated eight years ago and it shouldn’t matter anymore. Maybe I could lose them under a stack of other stuff and not tell anybody. If the papers were lost, perhaps Bobby and I could find each other again.

Holding hands makes you feel found. Just ask fairytale-famous Hansel and Gretel who stuck together, vanquished a wicked witch, avoided becoming Lost Children Chowder, and lived happily ever after (that’s what people do in fairy tales, less so in real life).

Patti (left) and Gaby: a couple of new BFFs

Mom and her new BFF Gaby hold hands all the time. They love each other. It’s amazing to me how much Gaby has come to love my mother in such a short time. I think Gaby is an angel. Truly. One thing for sure, she’s full of grace.

In the evenings, Mom and Gaby sit together in Gaby’s room in two fat green chairs, the kind that open up into recliners if you want. The chairs also rock and swivel. Mom and Gaby don’t recline in them, but they do rock and swivel. A black folding table sits between them. That’s where Gaby keeps the Sherbrooke Daily Record. Or the nurse puts their glasses of water, or sometimes milk and cookies.

I go to visit almost every night. When I arrive, Gaby pushes all four feet eleven of herself up from her fat green chair, in an astonishing feat of elderly strength and determination. She’s 97 after all. (Just turned on February 27, 2013.) It takes several looong seconds for Gaby to actually make it to a standing position, and when she does, she always says: “I made it!” And a big smile spreads across her face. She shuffles over to the antique chair sitting by the window, picks it up, carries it over, and places it in front of the black folding table between the two green chairs. It’s for me to sit on.

The way Gaby looks at my mother cleaves my heart in two. It’s a look of such sheer joy, acceptance and unconditional love, it’s amazing to behold. Gaby and Mom’s friendship has deepened in tandem with my mother’s declining capacity over the past five months. That she is becoming more and more lost in an Alzheimer’s haze doesn’t phase Gaby in the least. She just looks across at Mom and smiles, nods, and agrees with whatever gobbledygook finds its way from my mother’s mind to her mouth.

When I’m there, I do their nails, tell them my news (which they both immediately forget), and chat about random nonsense. Sometimes I read them a bedtime story from a children’s book I’ve borrowed from the library. The stories are short and sweet and often about being lost and found in one way or the other. I adore children’s books and fairy tales.

Books have uses other than joy and inspiration. I once threw one at Bobby in a fit of anger. It was early in our relationship, soon after we moved into our new-to-us old house in Bridgeland in Calgary. Our friends thought we were crazy when we bought that house. I saw a possible palace; they saw an old, rundown shack, the front door of which opened into the master bedroom.

“Wow. This is great!” They would say. But what I saw in their faces was: “Oh my God, she’s completely lost her marbles this time.”

I will likely lose them one day, just like Mom. But I hadn’t then. Or now. Not yet.

Our white-lying friends were blind, but I could see: tear down a wall here, put up a wall there. Rip up the carpets, reveal the hardwood beneath, create a love-filled space. I knew it would be perfect. And it was, eventually, and for a while.

The book incident occurred before the renovations. It was New Year’s Eve eve 1990, and the front door still opened into the master bedroom instead of a living room, or foyer, or hall or whatever. When Bobby got home, he had to walk past the bottom of the bed, in which I was lying, to get to the closet. As he did, I threw the book at him, the one I had not been reading as I lay there furious, awaiting his return.

I had unread the same page, over and over, getting to the bottom, then realizing I hadn’t absorbed anything, my anger having short-circuited the connection between my eyes and my brain. I saw the words and sentences (surely I did) hundreds of times before Bobby walked through the door. He got mid-foot-board before I lost whatever remaining cool I had, and tossed the tome at him. I found it under the bed the next morning.

Bobby had been out with Brian Fucking Kazinski that night. Brian was in the habit of saying fuck. A lot. He knew everything there was to know about What The Fuck long before What The Fuck became fashionable and everybody starting saying it and writing it and tweeting it. Now you can find a fuck just about everywhere you look.

While What The Fuck was still in the future, Brian had mastered the crude art of turning what might have been perfectly good sentences into bloody fucking messes. He couldn’t say a sentence, nay, he could barely say a word without fucking it up.

He used fuck like a hatchet to chop sentences into their component clauses, and multi-syllabic words into their smaller syllabic parts.

“Fuucckk!” He would begin. And then he would continue: “We got so fuckin’ drunk, it was un-fucking believable, every fucking body was abso-fucking-lutely shitfaced out of their fuckin’ trees. Then the fuckin’ cops kicked down the fucking door! What a fuck up. Fuck.”

Brian was almost as good at relationships as he was with language, grammar and sentence structure. He favoured small women with big hair and even bigger tits. He’d fucked his way through a slew of them before he went to South America on holidays, and came back a month later with a Venezuelan wife named Maria and her six kids from several different fathers. That was some fucking thing I can tell you.

Brian’s Maria didn’t speak a word of English. Brian didn’t know a lick of Spanish. But that didn’t stop them from finding and fucking each other (senseless I presume). Maria is a virginal name, but clearly Brian’s wasn’t.

(Not that I’m being judgmental. Neither was I. Virginal I mean. No ma’am. Not me. But that’s one story too many for this already overstuffed, over-storied, over-the-top tale. You’ll just have to wait for next time!)

The women in my family are also named for the most celebrated virgin ever:  my grandmother’s name was Mary Margaret; my mother’s name is Mary Patricia; mine is Mary Susan.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb…” Mom still whispers her rosary every night when she goes to bed.

I wonder if the fact that my grandmother used her family name Kell (because that’s what nurses used to do) and my mother and I are known as Patti and Susan respectively make it harder for God to find us (notwithstanding Mom’s nightly ritual), because we don’t go by the holier-than-the-other half of our names.

The amazing part is grace seems to find us somewhere, somehow, no matter how lost in life’s wilderness we become.




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