I entered the gym thinking about the movie, Still Alice, wondering if I had early Alzheimer’s since I misplaced my wallet and had more than my regular share of senior moments the past week. Forgetfulness, memory loss, slowed thinking, difficulty concentrating, losing track of time, anxiety, depression, feeling detached and isolating oneself are symptoms common to both Alzheimer’s and grief. It’s been almost four years since my daughter died but lately I’ve been losing and forgetting everything, all over the place. And after seeing Still Alice, I dreaded getting Alzheimer’s as much as I dreaded getting cancer.
“Robin?” A voice grabbed me from my thoughts. “Shoshanna, Marika’s friend,” said a beautiful young woman who did not look familiar. I thought, Shoshanna? I only know one Shoshanna, my daughter’s friend. But this isn’t Shoshanna. The stranger hugged me. I was aware she was warm from her workout while I was cold from outside.
“Oh hi. How are you? What are you doing these days?” I asked, searching her eyes for some connection. For a full minute I listened and hoped my face did not reveal my confusion. It felt like the scene from the movie where Alice stands, lost, staring at a spot she’d frequented most of her life.
Slowly, as this vibrant young woman spoke, it came back to me: Shoshanna as a kid sitting on a staircase outside her mother’s house, her father snapping pictures at a prom, Shoshanna at the house, visiting Marika at the hospital. Wild, unpredictable. Loyal. The breathy awkwardness of the younger Shoshanna was now replaced by a smooth confidence radiating from the adult before me.
Showering after my exercise class, I wondered how different Marika would have looked as a twenty-six year old. I thought of Shoshanna. This was someone who will remember my daughter long after I die or if I sink into Alzheimer’s and can no longer remember what I have or have lost. I wished I had recognized her sooner and greeted her more warmly. She would have left the gym by the time I dressed. “Visiting my parents for the break, … DC, … Michigan,” she’d said. Maybe I’d never see her again. Maybe if I did, I would not recognize her at all next time. And perhaps, if I slid down the slopes of dementia, she would not recognize me. It’s probably a good thing that what I worry about is heavier than what I can hang onto.
Does anyone else ever fret about getting Alzheimer’s? What keeps you up at night?