The corners of Garrison’s mouth turned noticeably upward as he reacted to his brother’s recollection of the Himper Dimper. This was the first time he had shown any sign of content since he was involuntarily enrolled as a resident of the care facility. The smile broadened as he thought back to his childhood and those rides to the city dump. They always looked forward to visiting their grandparents. His grandfather would take him and his brother along every time he needed to make a trip to that facility. It seemed there were always items that no longer warranted their place in the garage or storage shed. At least that’s what their grandmother decided. At one point along the way to the dump, there was a fairly good dip in the road. Actually, it was more of a rise and then drop. For a fraction of a second there was a feeling of weightlessness as the car became ever so slightly airborne and then reacquainted with asphalt below. The kids nicknamed this aberration the “Himper-Dimper”. What a great ride that was.
Garrison had to rely heavily on memories from his distant pass or he would have none at all. He had early onset Alzheimer’s. At age 60, he began to notice slight changes in the way his body performed. Oddly, the first sign was not a diminishment in any mental capacity but rather a physical change. His gait was different. Living downtown in a big city, Garrison didn’t own a car. Wherever he needed go to work or to shop or to meet friends, he could walk, his trusty (and dare I say…crusty) backpack firmly affixed. Like a blind man who has increased sensitivity to his other senses, Garrison could almost tell time by how long it took him to walk from point A to point B. Now that was changing. In fact, he noticed he stumbled a bit more than before.
Next up was the dreaded difficulty with daily tasks. Cooking and washing became almost overwhelming challenges instead of mundane chores. He worked with numbers a lot in his job and they just weren’t computing as easily as before. At first, he thought maybe fatigue was the culprit, but that quickly gave way to the reality of what was going on in his brain. The most telling sign emerged during a casual game of dominos with his family. At first, the others were wondering why he couldn’t figure out where to play. Then it became apparent that he was unable to count the number of dots on the dominos.
But the cruelest symptom of all was verbal. Garrison was a linguist. He spoke German fluently and had even studied abroad, learning Russian at a large university in Germany. No English was spoken at all. He took courses in Sanskrit. He went on to teach language courses at a Mid-western University. He had written, but not yet defended, a Doctorate thesis. Now, the simplest of words were starting to elude him. A toothbrush became “that thing you clean your mouth with”. The radio was “you know, that thing that plays music”. As he struggled more and more to find words and phrases, he eventually just gave up.
Nonetheless, he bravely faced his dilemma. There was never a period of denial as is so common with this disease. In fact, it was he who first told everyone what he believed had befallen him. When he went for his “official” evaluation, he uniformly failed all the tests. He was unable to duplicate simple shapes and could not draw the hands of a clock to show 3 o’clock. Depression began to set in.
Despite this, Garrison showed tremendous strength in facing his problem. Unmarried, he lived alone as long as he could and then willingly went to an assisted living facility. There he could still live somewhat on his own, with ready assistance available for meals and medicines and daily chores. But it was a false sense of security. With every hour and every day, he marched inexorably toward the inevitable outcome.
Predictably, when finally he became a threat to both his own safety and others in the facility, he was forced to move to the end-stage care facility. This is where he was that day he shared the happy memory of the Himper Dimper. His brother, who had his own family, lived half way across the country and could only spend a short while reminiscing like this.
A few days after the brother had returned to his own life; Garrison decided he was not going to live this life of coerced confinement. He may have been handed a death sentence, but he was going to have the say on how it was carried out. He refused to take nourishment or liquids. He had stipulated in his “living will” that there could be no forced measures, so all the staff could do was make him as comfortable as possible as he languished though his last days and drew his final breaths. Within a week he was gone.
The Himper Dimper is no longer there, having long since surrendered to earth moving equipment heralding a new development. But for one brother the memory remains. And what a fun ride it still is.
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A really touching post, and a great description of the horrific progression of his illness. I have been stuck in bed for the last few days recovering from a nasty operation, but I have my fingers, and through my iPad I am in contact with the world, my family, friends, and the blogosphere, reading much of which has passed the time, made me giggle lots, and informed me of so much that I simply wouldn’t have considered.
As long as my brain is active and stimulated, I am happy. If I lost the ability to reach out through my fingertips, I might die too – I know when i was 29 my fingertips and my 14.4 cable modem saved my life (a post about my past to follow sometime)
We follow with great sadness the progression of the illness in Terry Pratchett, one of our favourite Comic Science Fiction writers. If you haven’t read his books, you must start with The Colour of Magic, I know you will love them
Thanks for helping keep me sane these last few days. I have ME too, and sometimes get that ‘Fog Brain’ which is terrifying, I find myself screaming at my husband and children because they can’t decipher what I mean when I ask for a silver thing in the drawer with spikes….. Meaning a fork. Thank God the fog is very short lived. I really would slit my wrists if it was permanent. It is hell to be in, and hell to live with!
Hi Barbara. We were out for the evening and just got back in (10:00 PM here). I promise I will respond to each and every one of your comments tomorrow. But did want to say something about this one before I retire. Thank you for nice remark. Writing about it surely helped me with processing it all. Can’t believe it’s already been almost 3 years.
Wishing you well with the recovery. I almost had nasal surgery but chickened out when I questioned the release form I was supposed to sign. The doctor said they always have to do that when they are operating so close to the brain. You are a brave lass!
Isn’t it great that we now have something like this to help us whittle the time away? I’ll be careful not to make you giggle too much until you are back to 100%.
I know a few people with ME and thank my lucky stars I’m not dealing with that. As I said, hearing loss is minor compared to so many other things.
It has been a pleasure getting to read about you, your family and the places you have lived/visited. I have been to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland but not toDublin or the south at all. Everyone I know who has been there raves about it and it’s beauty. I worked for a company called Jefferson Smurfit Corp. Smurfit is an Irish name and based in Dublin. I’m told the Smurfits are kind of the Donald Trumps of Ireland. Ever heard of them?
Anyway, off to meet sweet Morpheus. Talk at ya again tomorrow.
The Smurfits are indeed. You couldn’t live there without hearing about them!
Funny what you say about my operation. It was schedules in for the 31st of January, but when I went for the Pre-op check they had to postpone it as I was too anaemic. At the time I wasn’t 100% sure about it, nor the surgeon, so I might also not have signed.
When they rebooked, they only had Thursday appointments which don’t really suit me (though I’m missing today as it turns out too) so i asked could I have a different day. They gave me Monday, but with a different surgeon which was fine by me
My condition worsened loads since the end of January and there were days I would have begged the doctor to drill a hole in my head to let the pressure out! By Feb 25th I would have signed anything!! I met the new surgeon the morning of the surgery and was very impressed with her, so decided to go ahead
I know I should have expected to be wrecked afterwards, but I was expecting more pain & less exhaustion. I prefer it this way round, believe me!!
Getting better every day slowly, I can feel it. But in no race. I want to fly to Dublin on March 7th to surprise my dad for his 70th, but no other activities planned between now & then, so quite happy to sit in bed and read & write 🙂
Don’t panic about replying, if you are like me, you will get round to it eventually. I’m sitting here doing nothing, you have things to do 🙂 Catch up soon
Can I quote some of this please? 🙂
A lovely tribute, Al.
What a tender tribute. And what strength and determination you brother showed to the end. My you heal quietly and peacefully.
Thank you, Barb, for your heartfelt comment.
Al, I’m so very sorry for loss. My brother died of cancer at 35 so I do know the wrench of losing a part of your life, but Alzheimers – the loss of the mind – is much crueler and heartbreaking to me. What a lovely tribute to him.
Very much appreciated Peg. I lost him nearly two years ago, but just now found the ability to write about it. I know your loss must have been heartbreaking too.
We’ll just have to keep making each other laugh!
Beautifully and touching tribute to the grace of your brother, Al. Made me sad for you, though. So hard to lose a sibling.
Thank you, Susan. It means a lot coming from someone who has been through this sort of thing.
Great post Al. I did not know Alzheimers could strike so early. Awful condition. Very tough on those who love the afflicted. Dianne
Cases of early onset happen in the 50’s and in rare instances, even in the 40’s.
GREAT POST ! wonderful but also sad….In many ways it sounds just like me
Forgetfulness is very common as we age, the difference is with Alzheimer’s you don’t even know what it is you’re forgetting.
What a beautiful and loving tribute to your brother. This is a terrible disease and I hope they find a cure soon. I know it won’t help your brother or ease the pain of his passing but I do hope they find it.
They’re making great strides, Jodi. They sure need to, it’s going be be epidemic before long.
Sweet and loving recollection.
I appreciate it Bernice.
So well, and lovingly, done Al. I didn’t know Gary was Garrison. Lots of brother love in that piece.
Thanks Jeri. Still appreciate your kindness when we were up that way for the burial.
That was beautiful Al.
Thanks Cindy. In some ways he was heroic.
This was spot on, I see all those limitations in myself already with my ill health and you describe them perfectly. Poignant. 🙂
Thanks, eye. Hope you are doing OK with all that.
I love my siblings and we often reminisce about funny little things from our childhood. Now as a few of us are collecting social security the shared memories seem even sweeter. I have not lost a sibling yet but I know it will be hard. A nice tribute to your brother, sorry for your loss.