I have always wanted to learn another language. As a kid I remember doing some very bad impressions of the king's English and an Irish brogue, and much to my dismay found I do not have the talent to pull off a foreign accent. This was troublesome through junior high and high school, when I actually studied French for four years. I would cringe when we spent a class period in the listening lab....the class would listen to a recorded French speaker, and the teacher would listen to the class reciting the same words and phrases. Yikes! Thankfully, my saving grace was the ability to read the language, conjugate verbs, and understand the written word. If I were to travel to France today, I'd definitely need an interpreter!
Since my high school days, I have found myself surprisingly adept at interpreting languages other than French. There was baby talk and toddler speak for starters. It was such a coup to know I understood the word inventions of children who themselves had not yet mastered the English language. Perhaps we were kindred spirits. What was there not to "get" when my precious 2 year old neighbor called her sister Yeshi (Stefanie), or my son wanted to pet the beak (snout) of the dog?
In the last decade I have become a pro at deciphering the illegible handwriting, misspelled words, and incorrectly used thoughts and phrases of some very special students. It is heartwarming to see the face of a child who struggles with English, when he finds there is someone who understands what he is trying to say. The same is true of a mostly non-verbal student I know, who thrills to the fact that I can figure out what his guttural utterances are from time to time. Ah communication!
Today, however, I was at a loss...brought to tears by my inability to use my years of language skills to comprehend what my mom was trying so hard to tell me. Her disjointed speech, and the stuttering inability to vocalize even simple thoughts is a painful effect of Alzheimer's and dementia. In keeping eye contact with her as she tries so painstakingly to form a few words, I see her eyes glistening, tearing up just as mine are. Despite that I smile, encourage, and nod my head as if I DO comprehend. Her message today was of utmost importance, I know, because I have also mastered body language, and know when she is happy, sad, in pain, sleepy, or hungry. Mom was desperate today, clutching my arm and speaking her gibberish, that in my heart I know makes sense somehow in her own traumatized mind. Before I left, she reached further, embracing me, then settled back in her chair, seemingly content again for the moment.
As I left the nursing home, I cried for the millionth time, at my inability to know, to help, or to understand the wall that has risen around her once capable mind. Mom was a language major at Temple University when she met and married my dad. So sad and ironic, that she is now unable to communicate in any language. I will continue do my best to speak for her, as she is unable to speak for herself, and show her that family is indeed everything....especially to one who can no longer express themselves.
A warm country hug to all,