This is a story that I wrote for a Christmas challenge. The place and actual scenes are fiction, but the affliction of Alzheimer's disease claimed my mother's mind and soul for almost six years. The last few years she didn't speak or if she did it was gibberish. Near the end she refused to eat. The central idea of the story is true. Out of the darkness of her mind she made one lucid statement before the ravages of that disease claimed her mind until it was released at her death.
It was December 1976. We had just moved into the rustic cabin where my wife was raised. It was a long shot, but her Alzheimer’s had progressed rapidly. I thought if she was in familiar surroundings it might slow its onset.
The disease wasn’t called Alzheimer’s back then. It was called hardening of the arteries or dementia.
We had been married for nearly forty years. I could see it all slipping away.
My wife Sybil had been forgetting things for a long time until she finally retreated inside a shell of silence. We still had occasional moments of intimacy. I would sit beside her, hold her in my arms, and stroke the hair that had turned from gold into silver. I would remind her of the things I loved about her and the memories that we shared.
Helping her to dress, eat, and wash became my life. She had given so much of her life to me, what could I do but share mine? It was stressful at times, but she was my love.
A light snow had fallen overnight creating a winter whitened world where ice and lace graced the bare trees that surrounded the cabin. I dressed her warmly. Taking her hand, we walked under the crystal and powder canopies. I was lost in the beauty of the moment while my wife was just lost. As we explored, I noticed a stand of pines behind the cabin.
It had been years since I’d decorated for Christmas and even longer since we’d brought a live pine into our house. I felt that it was time to do it again; after all, this might be our last holiday together.
We walked back to the cabin. I unlocked the shed, took a hatchet out of my toolbox, and led Sybil back to the pine grove. She stood nearby watching as I cut the tree. The snow sifted onto me with each swing of the blade. The evergreen groaned and fell. I tucked the hatchet behind my belt, grasped a branch of the tree with one hand and Sybil’s hand with the other. Towing the tree behind me, our progress back to the house was slow. I stopped to catch my breath several times.
I helped Sybil climb the steps onto the porch. Pulling the tree onto the veranda, I leaned it by the side of the door. I made a hasty trip to the shed to fetch the box of ornaments and tree stand. Inside, I helped Sybil undress and sat her in her favorite chair. Trading the hatchet for a saw, I cut the pine’s trunk to fit the stand.
The tree was soon covered with lights and ornaments. It looked so bright and festive. Sybil watched as I worked, but what registered in her brain I was unsure. I went into the kitchen to make some cocoa for us. I heard Sybil moving in the living room. I had to check to see what she was doing and be sure that she was safe. She was standing and staring at the tree.
She lifted a tentative finger to touch an ornament. I held my breath. It was the first ornament that we had bought after our wedding. It seemed as if a light went on behind her normally flat eyes.
She touched the bright, shiny orb and looked around. A vaguely familiar voice spoke. It was rusty from many years of disuse, “Where’s Carl? I love him so.” The voice suddenly stopped. The light in her eyes went out, but an angel had spoken.