Pierre, my father-in-law, and I are standing next to each other, carefully examining stones. I collect stones whenever I go, a habit that I've had since childhood. Pierre likes stones too and he is appreciatively touching a smooth stone that I gathered from a beach on the Normandy coast. He has Alzheimer's and is starting to lose his short-term memory and the ability to sustain a thought. It makes conversation difficult at times, so I am replacing the words we cannot find with stones. Gentle round stones, rough stones, crystals, rocks from distant mountains and pebbles from the beach.
The stone in his hand has tiny holes in it, created by the ceaseless action of waves. Pierre meditatively moves his fingers over the stone. Then he drops it and begins looking for another rock to examine. I hand him a piece of quartz and it glistens in the sun coming through the window. Pierre looks at me, his blue eyes uncertain and hesitant, then he smiles. "This rock does not come from a beach," he says with a solemn certainty. I smile and say "yes, that's right," and I feel tears come to my eyes. But my father-in-law has already moved away, slowly and carefully making his way across the room, distracted by something new.
I take a short, deep breath and then put the rock back on the table. I follow him, and when he turns, I have created a reassuring smile on my face.
Do you know someone who has Alzheimer's? Learn more about the disease and information for caretakers at this site. Info is available in seven different languages: