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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Plaid Pajamas and the Last Big Laugh


It was the last time I heard that laugh. Maybe it was the colorful plaids. Maybe it was how ridiculous Grandpa looked. Maybe it was because we all thought it was funny and she shared our emotions.

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Young Max Wallack and Great Grams
In an article in the Vancouver Sun, Douglas Todd contemplates on how his mother picks up on and reflects his emotional state. He decides that the best thing he can do for his mom is to stay in a good mood.

Douglas Todd says,
“Since my mother’s own Self is so fragmented, she adopts the emotions of whomever is with her, especially if it is someone with whom she may possibly, unconsciously, remember is her son.”

Reading this made me remember the last time that I heard Great Grams laugh. I mean REALLY laugh.

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Great Grams had always had a very jolly laugh. When she thought something was funny, and she started laughing, she almost couldn’t stop. Tears would come to her eyes, roll down her cheeks, and she would still be laughing. Sometimes, she would stop for a minute and then burst out laughing again.

Once dementia took hold of Great Grams, we didn’t hear that laugh very much anymore.

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Then, one day there was a sale on pajamas at a nearby store. Grandma found some in Grandpa’s size for only $5, and they were the nice soft cotton flannel that he liked. She bought them.

Let me describe the pajamas a little further, and you will understand why they were $5. They were plaid – all different clashing plaids. The collar was one plaid, the left and right arms each a different plaid. The cuffs were of a different plaid. The bottoms were different plaid on each leg and the fronts of the legs were different plaid from the back. Even the pockets were different plaid patches. It was as if someone had used all the left over patches of plaid material to make these pajamas.

Try to imagine what the pajamas looked like.

That night, Grandpa put on his new wild and crazy pajamas and came downstairs. We all looked at him and started laughing. Great Grams was laughing the hardest. She was laughing her laugh of years before. She was laughing the laugh of who she really was.

It was the last time I heard that laugh. Maybe it was the colorful plaids. Maybe it was how ridiculous Grandpa looked. Maybe it was because we all thought it was funny and she shared our emotions.

I don’t know what it was, but it was a good day. I remember that is was a good time.

Max Wallack is a student at Boston University and a Research Intern in the Molecular Psychiatry and Aging Laboratory in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine.  His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of  PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.


Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room