What I am writing about has nothing to do with ghosts, surreal happenings, spiritual journeys, life after death, and such like. It is about my mother-in-law, who passed away a couple of years ago, at the age of 87. But, since her early 50s, she had been a prisoner in her own body, with a mind that has been chained by that dreaded disease – Alzheimer’s.

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This journey down the hell hole that is Alzheimer’s started around three decades ago. A long and painful one, for her, her family and her friends – all the people who loved her, looked after her, visited her and stood witness to the shell of a woman that she became over the years.

My mother-in-law was one of the most beautiful, vibrant, intelligent and smart women I have ever known. She was always busy, with lots interests and activities,  at home and outside it. A voracious reader, she was closely involved in the arts scene – she could count some of the leading painters of the day as close friends. She had diverse interests that spanned the gamut – from theatre and the movies to politics and current affairs. She ran an efficient home. Her family loved her. Her friends did so as well. She drove her car and led an independent and busy life. And as a mother-in-law she was a gem.

What happened to that beautiful mind behind the beautiful face?

So where had that woman gone? What stole my mother-in-law’s mind, brain and soul, leaving her a mere shell of the person she had been? Before this dread disease struck so close to home, I was just vaguely aware of the depredations caused by Alzheimer’s. The impact it has on not just the sufferer but all those who surround that individual.

I kind of knew it was bad but didn’t realise the horrific dimensions of it. I felt it over time and I wasn’t even living in the same city as her. I can’t even begin to imagine what her caregiver has been through over those years. Her son, whose whole life was spent looking after her. And his father as well…a tall, strong, sturdy man, pushing 90, who was deaf and suffered from full blown Dementia.

I met my mother-in-law at the onset of this disease. At that stage, everyone around her was laughing and joking about how she was forgetting  things – names, events, meetings…. Specially stuff that had happened just days or a few short weeks ago. Her short term memory was going down the tube but her long term memory was fine. She had to stop driving – it was too risky. And she had to be reminded about events and appointments. Shortly after that meeting with her, she was diagnosed.

A beautiful face with empty eyes…

Over the years, I visited her maybe half-a-dozen times. I lived abroad and  visits were few and far between. Till the mid-2000s she could still recognise faces and names. One could still talk with her albeit with a lot of repetitions and reminders. And then things got progressively worse and I was positively discouraged from visiting. I was told it would be pointless and frustrating for me…and my presence would not make any difference to her. Sad but true… But a year or so before she passed away, I went to the city she lived in and visited her. Spent two days with her, spoke at length with her son.

It was heart breaking. Her face was still beautiful…amazing given her age, well past 80.  She was in good health considering her mental condition. But she was not there…she was MIA (missing in action) as they say in the army. She sat in her chair, mumbling to herself. Oblivious to her surroundings and the people around her. She was fed, bathed, taken to the bathroom, changed, given her meds, put to bed and woken up – handled like a rather large clay doll, with no reactions, no mobility, and a brain as hollow and empty as a doll’s.

She looked but didn’t see. She listened and didn’t hear. She felt but couldn’t respond. Her mind, that temple of the human state, had gone far, far away… never to be found again. Till this day, I cry.

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