September 27, 2021

Mattie’s Words: Losing Language to Dementia.

Mattie perches upright in her chair; it has seemingly morphed onto her body after various stages of lockdown in the care facility that is now her home. 

“What am I to do?” is a question that doesn’t often elude her. Other words tend to get damned on their way out of the deep river that is her soul.

Mattie’s words used to flow freely and effortlessly, like warm honey used to sweeten the object of its descent.

Now, she increases the movement of her hands slightly in hopes that it will aid her as she reaches back into her fading lexicon to describe events, feelings, and people to her loved ones.

With a familiar listener, Mattie can often relax a bit as they can support her efforts with words of their own to find the proximal range of her intention. Still, she suffers a bit, knowing that so many words have vanished from her grasp, leaving her with a vocabulary smaller than that of the young children whose admiration of the written word she used to inspire.

On a warm afternoon in another city, Mattie’s daughter walks to the front of a classroom poised to teach yet another class about the beautiful, archaic words from a chosen story in the high school literature collection—the manifestation of Mattie’s murmured words so many years ago.

For Mattie’s daughter, these learners are vessels. The words are like water, intended to wet their appetites for the finer parts of the written language to equip these young learners to analyze and dissect the authors’ choice of language. It never fails that she displays shades and nuances of her mother’s tone and gestures when she teaches.

The irony that the students are rather passive about their acquisition of language doesn’t elude Mattie’s daughter—while her mother is actively attempting to hold on to every word she has acquired.

The spoken word, the power of the soothing descriptions of beauty, the sharp redirection, and the lilting prayers molded and formed the highways and byways in her daughter’s brain. It brings her joy to share some love of language on her mother’s behalf.

Now, Mattie and her daughter sit together, knee to knee. Today is a difficult day for Mattie and her words. She often woke in the night, anticipating the time she would have with her daughter. This results in fatigue, which restricts even further the impeded stream of language. However, the exchange they share is simple—yet profound.

Nowhere in Mattie’s words are laments, criticisms, or judgments.

Mattie’s word bank, quickly becoming depleted, is left with words that reveal the content of her heart—gratefulness, desire for connection, and the ability to cope, to bloom, even when there isn’t enough light to properly see.

At the end of the visit, as Mattie prepares to go, too soon for Mattie, Mattie looks up with misty eyes which have gone from dull to vivid since the visit began.

“I love you; come back.”

Both Mattie and her daughter hang on to those words, the tangible gift that wraps the air between them as a gift, spoken and unspoken, the best remains of what may too soon be gone: Mattie’s words.


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