Luc Gagnon is a psychoeducator at the Douglas Institute. In 2003, he learned that his father had Alzheimer's disease. He decided to keep a journal to record the few precious lucid moments that his father would still be able to share. Two years later, Luc gathered his writings under the title "Papa, mama, the maid and I," a collection filled with humour and tenderness. The series is being published during the Alzheimer Awareness Month and over the next few weeks.
September 2004 - Michèle was telling me that she was at our parents’ house the other day, and as she was helping papa to bed (his joints are now so stiff, it’s become an arduous journey), he recited one of those insightful sayings he’s known to quote from time to time. This time, his pronouncement was: “As death approaches, the weakest make the mightiest efforts.” We’re often amazed by what comes out of his mouth, and I can’t help but wonder where he found this gem…the bible maybe?
I decide to Google it. Nothing comes up. Hmmm. I ask around at work, hoping that one of my colleagues will recognize it. Nope. I even toss it out to my team mates in the dressing room before a hockey game. Of course I give them a bit of background first, as it’s not the kind of saying that normally comes up in a locker room. Not exactly a rallying cry before the game. But no one’s heard it. Finally I give up and put it out of my mind.
A few weeks later, I’m outside papa’s house with him. We’re waiting for Bernard, who is upstairs with mama packing a few of papa’s things, as the doctor he saw this morning is sending him to the hospital. Out of the blue I recall the quote and decide to ask papa himself about its origins. Who knows? Maybe he’ll remember. “Could it be from the bible?” I suggest. He shakes his head, and I see that he is trying to remember. After what seems like ages and with a very serious and indeed almost grave look on his face (which I take as a hopeful sign), he says, “I think I saw it written on a men’s room wall.” Delightful. My vision of a well-worn page from the bible suddenly morphs into a dingy men’s room wall. I’ll bet that the actual quote didn’t even begin with “As death approaches.” More likely it had something to do with bathrooms and what we use them for. In any case, papa has quickly picked up on the absurdity of my confusing the bible with a line scribbled on a men’s room wall and laughs heartily at the image.
September 2004 - It’s morning, and Papa has been on the emergency ward for two days. In fact, he is in the “overflow” area, where the beds are packed so tightly next to one another that the thin blue privacy curtains hug both the beds and the people standing around them. As I arrive with mama, the curtains are open, and the man in the bed next to papa, who looks to be around my age, breaks into a smile as he sees us. His smile is an interesting one—playful and teasing all at once. “You must be Rolande,” he says to mama. Of course, he has to repeat it, mama being hard of hearing. Finally she catches on and says, “Yes…?” The question mark in her response is obvious. The man tells her that papa was calling out her name all night.
Papa must be missing home terribly. How sad, I think to myself—until, that is, the man goes on to recount that during the night, each time a faraway phone would ring or a machine somewhere on the ward would beep (and we know how often that happens on an emergency ward), papa would loudly call out, almost shout in fact, as if mama were in the kitchen and he in the bedroom: “Rolande, answer the phone!” Classic. Hard on the other patients, but classic. The reason for the playful smile has just become crystal clear.