We have had had some unseasonably hot, albeit pleasant weather in Scotland the last couple of weeks. This has resulted in a flurry of activity in our allotment and because it stays light until very late this far North, we have spent some lovely evenings rooting contentedly around our little plot.
A couple of days ago, on one of these fine evenings, we bumped into one of the other allotment plot owners, let’s call him Paul for the sake of anonymity. Seated at one of the battered picnic tables near the shed, he was enjoying a cup of tea from a flask that had seen better days. He had brought his mum, Moira, with him — a tiny, old lady who never quite made eye contact during the conversation. Introductions revealed that she was already well into her nineties, and it didn’t take me long to realise that she had Alzheimer’s disease.
As they strolled around the garden, Paul would patiently point out the different vegetables growing in the plots, and his beautiful mum, wrapped in a heavy winter coat despite the heat, would make appreciative noises, but would then turn to look him in the eye and exclaim that she ‘wished Paul could see this’, to which he would gently reply, “Mum, I am Paul”.
We watched them walk, Paul’s hand on her elbow as he pointed out the different plants and vegetables growing, patiently drawing her back to him each time that she did not recognise him as her son.
It was beautiful, and it was tragic.
A reminder of the cruelty of a disease that can strip a mother of the ability to recognise the child that she birthed and raised, and yet, a poignant reminder of the determined power of a love that can never be destroyed by the monster that is Alzheimer’s.
With us that afternoon, was our 9-year old son, Daniel, who happens to have Autism. Daniel struggles with social interaction, especially with strangers, and so, you can imagine how my heart contracted with a surge of emotion that I still cannot adequately put into words, when he gently took Moira’s frail hand in his and without either of them making eye contact with each other, softly whispered, “Look at her hands, Mom, they are so soft. Is she very old?”
And Moira, quietly stood there, not saying a word, except for the almost bird-like noises that would escape her lips every so often, whilst my son’s fingers explored the transparent skin on the back of her hand.
The moment didn’t last long, but it had a magical quality about it. A sense of something other-worldly taking place between these two strangers — boy and woman — who both inhabit a world that is, at times, inaccessible to the ones who love them.
We spoke a little more until it was time to leave, Moira looking at her son, nodding every so often at what he was saying, and Daniel, tugging at my hand, asking to go home.
And as we said goodbye, I had a sense of something deeply special having happened. I cannot give a name to it, but then again, I don’t think I need to.
— A moment in time.