Now, Mom is becoming a person for me. I am learning who
Paula Kassolis is. And I am learning how much I like her.
With Alzheimer’s disease, I cannot expect anything from her.
She cannot disappoint me or embarrass me. She is what she
is. The more time we have together, the more I appreciate
her life and her love and her laugh. Her laugh is the best,
a steady chuckle that begins with a roaring “Ah ha” and
repeatedly peaks and plateaus, up and down, her hand on her
stomach to control the giggles and her face red with
delight. Her eyes tear when she laughs and I think crying
and laughing might be one and the same because our bodies go
through the same motions: short breath, erratic facial
expressions, red face, tears.
I cycle through so many phases of coping with her
disease. Anger passed quickly, but sadness resonates above
my head. And today I realize how much I will miss her, not
as a mother, but as a person. And I think I will miss her
laugh the most.
Her three to five years are dwindling quickly. It’s been
four years since her diagnosis, and now I am just waiting.
She is almost living on borrowed time, and I am never sure
of when I will become a nameless face she cannot identify.
Time is a vacuum to her. It exists and she knows it exists,
but it has no meaning. She wears a digital watch and can
read the time back to me if I ask.
“Let’s see…eight, four,…seven,” she says. “It’s eight
forty-seven. Yep, eight, four, seven.” But ask her what most
people are doing at 8:47 in the evening and she won’t know.
Ask her what time she wakes up in the morning and she will
tell you noon.
Eastern philosophy speaks of time – of breath time, not
clock time. We can measure time by the ticks of a clock or
we can measure time with the breaths we take to fill our
lungs with oxygen. I like to think that Mom is on breath
time where the eight, the four, and the seven are just
numbers that don’t have to mean anything at all.
A metal plate hangs on her bedroom wall. The copper was
intricately cut to emulate both the sun and the moon and
painted in a bleed of colors — teal, purple, orange and
yellow. The sun’s exterior has twelve rays shapely carved to
look like flames of fire. Inside the core sits a crescent
moon with a face etched onto its surface. The plate is a
sundial, an archaic way of calculating time. The sun and
moon, working in tandem, depicted through metal that draws
no distinction between when one ends and the other begins.
Nickolena Kassolis’ writing has appeared in Sonora Review
and Welter. She is currently writing a book-length memoir
about her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease.
Nickolena has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and
publishing and lives with her husband, Scott, in