Rock-a-by baby On the tree top,
When the wind blows The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall,
And down will fall baby Cradle and all.
– Mother Goose, c.1765
A nursery rhyme that has always struck me as (just a little) scary. Who puts a baby in a cradle, and then in a tree? What do you expect? The baby IS going to fall.
Right now (and actually for a long while previously), my life is dominated by minds that have perhaps been put in a metaphorical tree, the bough has broken and so has the mind.
Firstly, the onset and continuing existence of mental illness in my own life. Mental illness has been very obvious for around twenty years now, although thankfully (for now) it’s not quite the crisis that it has been previously. There’s always the possibility, though that the branch may break again. With the diagnoses and history I carry, I would be a fool to deny that possibility.
But now, I’m living the day-to-day reality of caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. It is different from my own broken mind experience yet there are some very real similarities. Sadly, at this stage of medical knowledge, there is no light at the end of the tunnel with Alzheimer’s. Rather it is getting steadily worse and will continue to do so. People don’t survive Alzheimer’s. Not yet, anyway.
That breaking of minds is something I could write about endlessly. Both my own mind, and more recently my Mother’s. But it’s not where my thinking is today. Rather, I’m thinking about what is left when the mind has broken. That thinking comes from the image below, one I came across yesterday on a great Facebook page, Alzheimer’s Sucks – Memories for Joe Hennington. As an aside, I can tell you that Alzheimer’s does indeed suck, so that immediately tells me this page is a good one. It is worth a visit.
Let me say from the outset, that it is not my intention to conclude whether or not the message contained in this image is correct. I don’t know the answer to that, and I wonder whether anyone really knows. I share it because it made me think, and so I want to discuss it. To hopefully at least start to sort out my own thinking, and maybe find a little of what others think.
This image stopped me in my tracks. “The heart holds what the mind can not“.
I had seen a similar statement before but perhaps because of where I am at with my mother’s Alzheimer’s journey, it really made me ask yesterday:
“When the mind breaks, does the heart step in and protect what really matters (what the mind held)?
Is what was loved, sustained?”
Yes, that is what I want to know. I know the easy way to look at this. I can tell myself, “yes, my mother still loves me now and will continue to do so when she no longer knows me“. That is, of course, what we all want to believe.
And what about with severe mental illness? When my mind was so terribly broken (in an admittedly different way) and I didn’t want to know my family, I suspect they might have wondered “did she still love us?” Clearly, there were times when my actions and words indicated otherwise.
I can remember my then-husband wondering “do you still love me?” Such a question came at a time when he was having to watch me continuously, primarily because the mental health services were simply not available and someone had to make sure that I stayed alive and ate something. I hated it (and I’m sure he did too). I reacted in such a way that he must really have wondered. It probably appeared that I hated him. Perhaps I did.
I don’t think I had the capability to love him (or anyone) at that time. My mind was very much broken and was fighting for survival in such a way that I wonder if love was even possible. If you could magically take away the mental illness then, of course, I would say then that I loved him. But magic isn’t real life, is it?
My mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease is different. She’s not having to fight me for her survival, in the way that I had fought my husband. There is also not some hope that we will get her back, as she was. The mother I knew, has largely faded. I don’t buy the train of thought that the person with dementia has already died and that we are simply left with her body. But that’s a whole other post so I won’t go there right now.
A few days ago Mum and I were in her room looking at something that she has always loved. I said something about it, and I saw her looking at it as if she had never seen it before. Then she looked to me and clearly wanted some explanation. It was an object rather than a person but I found it startling because it was an object she had loved. Only in the last few weeks, she had referred to it with affection, but now she had no connection to it.
And so I wonder, what about when it is a person. When it is me? When the time comes that she doesn’t recognise me, will her heart still hold what the mind has lost? Will she still love me?
I want to believe that she will, even though she won’t even be able to communicate it. Who wouldn’t want to believe this? But I suspect that it’s not quite that easy. Maybe that’s the glass half-full person I am. I don’t know.
Perhaps too, it comes from my own broken mind. I have struggled to believe my mother loved me for most of my life. We haven’t had an easy relationship. It’s difficult for me to believe that her love will be sustained when I’ve spent nearly fifty years doubting the existence of that love.
What matters is that I will keep being there for my mother, even if that love has gone. More so, perhaps I need to turn all of this around. What I need to know is that she will still know that I love her.
And in terms of my own broken mind journey, perhaps what really matters is whether I could still somehow comprehend love from my husband and my family. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t and perhaps that was part of the problem. I’m really not convinced that my heart could hold what the mind had lost.
I suspect these are questions for which there will perhaps never be adequate answers (for me anyway). Something I perhaps have to accept as it is, without understanding.
What do you think? When the mind breaks, what happens to what the heart held? But please don’t tell me that of course, my mother loves me. If you do, I will know that you have missed my point.
“You’re so beautiful,” said Alice. “I’m afraid of looking at you and not knowing who you are.”
“I think that even if you don’t know who I am someday, you’ll still know that I love you.”
“What if I see you, and I don’t know that you’re my daughter, and I don’t know that you love me?”
“Then, I’ll tell you that I do, and you’ll believe me.”
— Lisa Genova (Still Alice)
Thanks for reading