Natalia, Alzheimer and the Doll

By: Jessier M. Rodríguez Vega

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Nilda and Natalia’s dolls.

It’s the first Saturday of April, the day of the general spring cleaning. Today Nilda dusts the esteemed collection of Barbies and thememories begin to flow. She pauses her housework and laughs “Nancy”- she tells a doll with long brown hair, “You were a favorite of my mother, one of her confidants and … her constant playmate in the years she lived with Alzheimer, “she recalls as she tries to hide some indiscreet tears.” She remembers Natalia, a tireless worker, a loving mother, a grandmother who educated, spoiled and scolded with love.

Nilda suspended her housework while her hands caress Nancy and remembers. “I cannot pinpoint when it started,” she says before breaking down.

“We were in a toy store buying gifts for my grandchildren. Natalia wrinkled his hands (evidence of his tireless work as a working woman and a loyal dutiful of his duty as a loving mother, wife, grandmother), a pink box decorated with flowers and butterflies, which, through a transparent plastic that simulated the window of a castle, revealed a beautiful doll with abundant brown hair, brown eyes, long eyelashes and well formed lips painted pink.”

Aníbal, Nilda`s husband, who was leaning against the door frame scratching his head so as to awaken memories said: “We were amazed that Natalia, a shy, reserved, polite and very sweet woman, in a moment, would begin screaming like a spoiled child on the verge of a tantrum. When we looked to see where she was, we saw the box that a few minutes ago were between Natalia’s hands, was destroyed and was lying on the floor. Between his arms huddled the doll and he looked with so much attention and admiration.”

María, Natalia’s granddaughter, who had remained silent, listening to her parents, started coughing… like to get our attention, or perhaps to conceal that she had been crying, still remembering that day  which marked the beginning of a different life for her family. “The store manager told my grandmother Natalia that she was irresponsible, that she had to pay for the merchandise she broke and that he was going to call the police. My mother Nilda asked the manager what was happening. Then with an annoying voice, altered and impatient, he said: ‘This lady is so old and irresponsible, she could not just look at the doll through the plastic box, she broke it, to get the doll.’

María and Nilda begin to sob, scarcely one listens to them. At first Nilda was wiping her tears, she rose her head and clenched her fists, as if the store manager was in front of her and it was a hit. After taking a sip of water she was led by her husband Aníbal, she is the one that goes with the story.

“When I went to my mother, she questioned why I had done that. She walked over to me, rested her head on my chest, put her thumb in her mouth, blinking often and in a girlie voice tells me, “Mommy, this man is bad and ugly. I want to remove my doll. Nancy, tell him not to bother me, I ‘m your girl.”

Aníbal approached his daughter and wife, embraced them and laid a gentle kiss on the forehead of the two, as if to erase the bitter memories and leave prints of his memory, only those pleasant memories of what life was and if Natalia had them from then on. Nilda throws a small laugh that touches everyone.

Nilda looked back at the shelf where Natalia’s dolls remain as mute testimony to what was her life in recent years. Exhale a deep, long breath and continued with her story. “Then I realized that something was wrong with my mother’s brain. The manager and the curious people around us witnessed the sudden change that took the life of our beloved Natalia.”

While Aníbal was directed by the manager to pay cash for the doll, María, Nilda and Natalia hugged, kissed and comforted each other, giving her a lollypop that one of the curious people had given him. Other onlookers were separated into groups, each making derisive comments , others calling it crazy and others sympathizing with the situation with our traditional “Oh Lord!”

This was the beginning of the journey and ordeal in the life of Natalia. They began patient visits, neurological studies, finding specialized medical and second medical opinions, battles with health plans authorization, more studies, etc. Until the dreaded diagnosis came: Alzheimer’s at an advanced stage.

To each doctor’s visit Natalia arrived with a big smile and a new Barbie. When Natalia was hard to feed, bathe, or put to sleep, came the promise and the presence of a new Barbie.

Important in children’s lives Natalia, as told by her family, she played as a child just because she took care of her younger siblings when her mother died.

Natalia’s dolls collection.

Natalia’s dolls collection.

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