Eunice was born in 1933, in São Paulo, State of São Paulo, where she married and lived to adulthood. She worked in large department stores arranging shelves and shop windows, and in time became manager. She was very careful and dedicated and won awards in recognition of her good work. She was always very elegant and well-kempt. After becoming a widow, Eunice traveled around the country in groups and excursions for the elderly. She also attended several courses and activities aimed at this audience.
I met Eunice in 2013, during a consultation in neurology, accompanied by her daughter Sílvia. At that moment, when the doctor asked about her memory, Eunice replied “I am always forgetting everything”, and said that she kept things and forgot where they were. "What about the names of the grandchildren?", "Ah, those I don't forget!". Sílvia said that her mother needed help to get dressed, as she put the blouse on the reverse. She also constantly got lost inside the house, was more apathetic and even put the laundry in the kitchen cupboard.
The first signs of the disease are supposed to have appeared in 2010: she would forget where she had kept objects, would forget to eat and bathe, would think that someone wanted to steal from her, and that the television was talking to her. She would call her daughter repeatedly on the same day and she even got lost on the street. She didn't know how to make rice anymore. The condition would have worsened with the death of the mother, also diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Since 2012, she has been monitored at the neurology clinic of a university hospital.
When I went to visit her for the first time, Eunice lived alone in an apartment opposite Sílvia's, in Campinas, State of São Paulo. It was a very cold day, and she was watching television in the bedroom, wrapped in a blanket. I arrived, I introduced myself and she soon apologized for lying down. As a good hostess, Eunice, despite the cold, got up from the bed to greet me, leading me to the sofa in the living room, hastily arranging her clothes and hair.
When I resumed contact with Sílvia, after 5 years, Eunice was in a nursing home, the place where we would talk since then. With a slower pace, Eunice remained well articulated. It was clear that she wanted to speak. Sometimes I was afraid to tire her because she would start and never stop. At other times, she remained silent, her eyes on the floor.
She felt I was a friend she hadn't seen in a long time. One day, when she saw me, she gave me a hug and said: “I was thinking about you!”. Eunice, who had already told me she was in her 30s, used to comment on the work in the store and as a seamstress. She described the household chores she did every single day at her house - she did not see the institution she was in as her home. One day, she told me it was the first time she was there, not recognizing those people. She had already thought that the institution was my home - “may I use your bathroom, please?”, she politely asked me. "Well, honey, the talk is great, but I have to go home." Caring for her young children was a frequent topic: the dishes she liked to prepare for them, advices she, as a mother, would give in order to provide a good education and, indeed, how much work they were. Once, we were talking in the bedroom when we heard a loud noise. "Wow, I left my boy sitting on the chair in the living room, did he fall?" She worriedly said.
The mother was the main topic of our conversations. She spoke of her with such love that it moved me. Eunice's mother was alive - not only because of the strength of the stories she used to tell, but she literally lived, as a body, a physical presence, flesh and bone. "My mom is making me a dress, I can't wait!". "I'm leaving because my mom gets worried whenever I'm late ...". "Today I'm going to have lunch with my mom!". "I don't know if my mother will let me go, she's such a piece of work". "I'm worried about my mother, she was supposed to show up, but she hasn't arrived yet". Eunice helped to take care of her mother, to make her food, to clean the house and she held her as an excellent grandmother for her children. At times, Eunice was just a child: “My mother tells me: don't stay on the street, don't catch a cold, take care! So, I'm going to obey and it's working”. In others, a young woman discovering the world: “now that I'm 18, I can go to the gate!”
In the first conversation I had with Sílvia, before I knew that the mother would be the focus of our meetings, I asked if Eunice was hallucinating. The question did not seem to make sense. I gave as an example saying to have seen someone who has passed away, for I noticed these reports with a certain frequency in my field research. Sílvia replied that she would not see it that way, since they are spiritists and, therefore, believe in this possibility. Eunice herself had already been a medium and used to psychograph letters in the spiritist center she frequented with her mother, the one who passed on to her those religious concepts. Therefore, seeing the mother and talking to her was not a pathological symptom, but rather a spiritual experience.
And that is how they taught me something precious: when the disease meets other possible explanations and experiences, it overflows from medicine to show that there are many other ways.