Wednesday, January 27, 2021

January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

This January has been a full year in and of itself. And it remains Alzheimer's Awareness month. 

I posted this photo and caption on Instagram on Monday. (You could follow me there, if you're so inclined. I'm @marionagnew.) 

How do you handle fear?

Denial was my go-to. I ignored my mother’s confusion and anxiety, her memory lapses. Then I tried to pretend it wasn’t serious—surely not Alzheimer’s. She was still okay. My parents were still parents, still “the grownups.”

It wasn’t true, of course. My mother was sick—afraid, disoriented. My father was just keeping up. And it wasn’t fair to them to pretend nothing was wrong. I had to face my fears around disease and loss to forge new relationships with them both.

Some people handle fear by cracking jokes—“I forget what I came in here for, it’s probably that Old-Timers.” “I tell you what, if I ever lose it, just take me out back and shoot me.”

Some in their audience laugh along. Haha. Ha.

Many “haha” through tight smiles, because honestly saying “ouch” and crying is too hard. It’s too big a risk—the stigma around a dementia diagnosis is real.

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. People with dementia, and those who love them, overcome their own denial every day. They may choose to live with grace and hope—and humour. They don’t need your jokes or your denial.

They especially don’t need your absence. When someone shares a diagnosis, their entire community can disappear. “Friends” say, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to act, it’s too hard.”

People with dementia deserve better. We all do.

So how do you support people with dementia? The Alzheimer Society (Canada) and Alzheimer’s Association (United States) have tips. An information clearinghouse, AlzAuthors, also has resources, including a podcast.

Mostly: be a friend. Ask. Listen. Overcome your own fear. Someday, you may need a community to do the same for you. 💜
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Indefinite Hyperbolic Numerals

How many is 400,000? How many is 20,000?


In days, 400,000 would be more than a thousand years; 20,000 would be almost fifty-five years.


400,000 pieces of ice? Maybe 20,000?

But these numbers represent human beings. Currently, more than 400,000 people in the US have died of COVID-19. The total in Canada has not yet reached 20,000—it’s between 18,000 and 19,000 today.


It feels so impossible to understand 400,000 people. Even 20,000. How do you convey that number? How do you transform numbers—embody them, literally give them skin, bones, breath? Show the people they were?


We’re writers. We should be able to do this. But 400,000 and 20,000 are big numbers. We might as well be using indefinite hyperbolic numerals—words that sound like really big numbers: eleventy-million, a jillion.


Does it help to focus on the little things? Do you talk about the birthday candles each person blew out, their favourite donut, the songs they sang along to and knew all the words? The stories behind each tiny scar on the knuckles of their left hand. When they’d planted those hyacinth bulbs in the side garden, and what colours they were supposed to be. Their favourite brand of chain saw, gas station, pickup truck, wheelbarrow.


Whether they preferred mittens or gloves, sandals or flipflops. Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby, or even Louis Prima. English saddle or Western, mountain bike or road bike. Pierced earrings or clip-ons. Windsor knot or bowtie. And okay, fine—boxers or briefs. Sock-sock-shoe-shoe or sock-shoe-sock-shoe.


Their favourite snack—Cheez-its, Jolly Ranchers, popcorn, or a handful of walnuts and chocolate chips, mixed. Beef jerky, bologna rolled up around a slice of cheese and dipped in mayonnaise, ketchup-flavoured potato chips.


Their favourite pet: that parakeet, the gerbils, Buster, Percy, Chicken the dog, Alabaster the cat.


But 400,000 lives, or 20,000. In total, how many hours, minutes, days, months, years were lost, unnecessarily? How many people did they love—how many people loved them? 

How much grief those numbers encompass.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

No, no, nope, no

Sometimes the only words I have are that I have no words. 

Just kidding. I have these: "Remember: 'no' can be the most loving thing to say and do.'"

Related: Enough. Consequences. 

Here is a birch tree.

Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask, and hold elected officials accountable. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Mending, Tending, Extending

Hello, 2021. Yes, 2020 was the year like no other. The pandemic. The election.


But other things—I’ll resist calling them smaller—happened, too. 2020 was also the year in which I learned about mending, tending, and extending.


* I broke my wrists, both of them, and learned a new acronym: FOOSH, for fall onto outstretched hands. Related: I also became more aware of my intake of calcium and vitamin D, and the value of weight-bearing exercise. Also (again) that impatience doesn’t hurry healing. My first broken bones. (March)


* I drastically cut my to-do lists. It was hard to focus, early in the pandemic, so (beyond the basics—eating, showering) I did one small but important task on a project. And then the next task. Sometimes I could do two in a day, but I only had to do one. And projects got finished. “One thing a day” really helped me stay afloat through all the feelings everywhere. (April)


* I drew Hunter Biden’s face for 31 straight days. It had nothing to do with the man per se; I chose the project because of the photograph from a profile in The New Yorker. The image is striking—I remembered it more than a year after reading the article—and it gave my drawing skills quite a challenge. Which I guess was the point. (October)

I mean:

In 2021, I'll have to remember that 2020 held unnecessary loss of life, corruption, and ineptitude. I experienced personal fears for loved ones and disappointments, giving up some plans and postponing others. 

But I will also remember mending, tending, extending.