What Alzheimer’s Has Taught Me
Healthy but with her memory ransacked by late stage Alzheimer’s, my mother recently celebrated her 96th birthday. I was born on her birthday, and when I showed up on our shared birthday with cake and presents, she told me that I looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite place me. She asked for my name. When I told her, she shook her head and said, “No, I don’t know anybody by that name, sorry.” At this stage, I’m more bemused by the irony of that response coming from the person who actually named me and relieved that she is, overall, quite happy, than I am saddened by the fact that she doesn’t know me anymore.
She’s taken to very different behaviors recently, which I know is caused by the disease. However, they are rather charming behaviors. Her strict religious upbringing meant she spent a lifetime with short, no-fuss hair, rarely wore makeup and definitely not nail polish, and she eschewed all ornamentation and most jewelry. These days, she wears bright pink nail polish on her carefully manicured fingernails, lets me dress her very long and elaborately styled hair with crystal encrusted bobby pins and favors bright clothing decorated with jaunty pins. Her demeanor has changed, too. After a lifetime of being pessimistic and critical, she has a refreshingly joyful and guileless attitude these days.
So, when I’m with her, I wonder, for myself and, by extension, to my own company, what choices do I make out of habit? Without memory, who would I be? Do I behave out of a lifetime of decisions that I made once, remember clearly and never revisit? Do I avoid the new in favor of the known? Am I consistent or merely entrenched? If I change the identity of my company and do something different, do I look like I’m wavering, or like I’m innovating?