Learning to Hate the Lucid Moments

Chávez’s announcement the other day that we may end up buying energy from Colombia after all reminded me of my grandmother, who passed away back in 2003 after a long, losing battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a cruel one, Alzheimer’s, and the descent was especially hard to witness in a woman who’d been so strong and lucid throughout her life. 

There’s one stage in the disease that we all found especially hard to cope with: not the very end, but a few years before that, when your loved one is undergoing the traumatic transformation from a sick version of the person you’ve always known and loved to someone so far gone you can’t really see them behind the disease anymore. This is a protracted period of repeated heartbreak for the family, and the thing that makes it so cruel is that even after the person has sunk pretty damn deep into that nethercloud of confusion and dementia, she’ll still have these startling flashes of lucidity now and again that bring her old self rushing back to the surface again, but just for a second.

Long after grandma had stopped recognizing any of us she might pipe up and say something that would bring back the person she’d used to be all at once. "I can’t wait for the mangos to ripen, we’ll make a nice jalea." Just a flash like that, a tiniest glimpse, a reminder that she was more than just a vessel for her dementia, that the seeds of lucidity were still there – dying, surely, but not entirely gone.

It’s those flashes that make Alzheimer’s such hell for the family. It would be so much easier to adjust to the thought that grandma, though still breathing, was gone and would never come back, without them. By the end, we came to hate those lucid flashes…we came to grasp their taunting cruelty, the way they just prolonged the suffering for everyone involved.

The decision to buy – or at least consider buying – electricity for Colombia struck me in much the same way. For just an instant we were of what it once was like to have a sane leader, one with the reserves of common sense it takes to put the national interest above the demands of ideological posturing. For a fleeting moment there we could be reminded of what it had felt like, years ago, to have a president genuinely concerned with the people’s well being; willing to go to the mat for them.

Just like I learned to hate my grandma’s lucid flashes, I hate Chávez’s. It would be so much easier for the country to come to grips with the fact that the leader it once knew and loved is gone and gone for good, that he has been fully replaced by his disease, if it weren’t for these sporadic outbreaks of pragmatism. Because, in the end, all they do is prolong the agony.

It is, when you think about it, absolutely remarkable that there was ever any doubt about this. That high ranking chavistas felt the need to hedge their response to the Colombian offer, that it was considered a political risk for people to say that, you know, of course we’re going to accept any help we can get keeping the lights on as we stare a potential Guri shutdown in the face. That, right there, is terrifying evidence of how far the disease has advance.

Yes, the lucid flashes are coming less and less often. Eventually, they will fade entirely. But the process is long. Very long. And very painful.