Friends kindly ask how my brother is; Alzheimer’s a mean disease I answer. It’s a thief. The conversation often stops there. No one knows just what to say, including me.But the other day when a friend, who had met him numerous times, inquired I couldn’t stop. I told her about how his anxiety and frustration increased so much he’d been on an Alzheimer’s care unit since the end of last year. How his long walks which he loved were limited to twenty or thirty paces before he struggled with staying stable. How speaking to him by phone or skype is no longer possible. I don’t mean that he can’t use it to call, but rather the concept of that voice on the other end being his sister no longer makes any sense to him. He can’t construct that abstract notion.
His wife, my sister-in-law, visits everyday. Her life has been turned upside down. I live far away so I don’t feel that kind of upheaval. What I do feel is loss. But it is a loss I am not sure how to describe. My brother turns 74 today. He is still here, but he is not here. Not in the way he once was. i guess none of us are the way we were but those changes are slow, visible, part of a time surge that carries everyone in its wake. My brother has been hit by a tsunami that remained undetected for years, and then left an indelible change. His life is a whole new geography.
I am not a stranger to losing people. Some of my closest friends have passed in the last few years. My parents when I was young. We use the word loss as if someone can be found again. We say passed on as if they have gone somewhere we can trace. In some sense I have found those who have died. They are in my heart and their memory truly is a blessing. They are in the stories I tell. They occupy the photo frames on the piano and become part of a running narrative when my grandsons visit. They are my history and their voices carry into my days. But missing someone who has died is very different from missing someone who is here. Here and not here. There and not there. My brother who is no longer my brother and yet still is. Today is his birthday. We always spoke on his birthday. This will be the first year we don’t.
My brother lives in that new geography. It is uncharted and ever changing. Full of sinkholes and swamps with occasional clear skies, wisps of bird song, the consistency of people he sees everyday. Sometimes unrest haunts him. Something is not right. He not where he is supposed to be. He is there and not there.
And still he remains here with me.