It’s been a steady decline these last few years.
Watching someone you love slowly slipping away isn’t easy, particularly when you can’t quite put your finger on what you’re losing until it’s gone.
My mother first started showing signs of dementia when her brother died in 2007. He was the baby of the family, and it hit Mom particularly hard. At first, we blamed grief on her altered state. She was repeating stories, forgetting details…all things a grieving mind might present. However, it didn’t take long for us to see that this wasn’t just a phase of grief.
Shortly after my uncle’s death, she stopped driving. She never explained why but I think she was afraid. I remember her getting lost around that time. She had somehow become disoriented in an area she had driven in for years. That must have been frightening.
By the time she retired from work a few years later at age 70, the writing was on the wall. We couldn’t ignore the signs anymore.
And yet, we did.
Instead of insisting she get help, we accepted her excuses. We tip toed around the issue, afraid of insulting her. With her many moments of lucidity, we would doubt ourselves and think (hope) that maybe, we were wrong.
Time passed and now, after a horrible experience with shingles (I could write an entire article on that topic alone), her mental health declined along with her home situation to the point where we were forced to put her in nursing care (something else I could write an entire article on).
It is something we (meaning my sisters and I) never really considered having to do. We believed she would always stay in her home, surrounded by her beautiful things, until she passed away. She is so out of place in her new “home.” The horrid fluorescent lighting, the institutional décor, the smells and sounds permeating the entire environment seem undignified and unsettling. She is given a bib to wear at meal time. It’s such a cruel turn of events.
In her little corner of her shared room, a few of her things have found their place. A slipper chair, some of her art, a lamp on an antique side table and some framed photographs. These few belongings have survived. After a lifetime of accumulating things, this is what remains.
In my grief, I wanted to throw everything I owned away. “Pitch it all!” I insisted. “What’s the point?” My husband managed to shift my perspective, but it sure got me thinking about what truly matters. The truth is, those few things that surround her in there are more for our comfort than hers. She seems surprised that she painted the paintings, she can’t see the photographs, and doesn’t seem interested in her ‘things” at all. But, with everything we have lost, those few belongings are a lifeline to when we felt we were on dry land, not being tossed about on rough waters. They symbolize a little taste of home.
What I cherish about my time with my Mom now is her ability to live in the present; she’s like a child now in so many ways, feeding off the immediacy of her experiences. It has become a narcissistic “this tastes good, I don’t want that, I need you, let’s go here” type of existence. Her memory being what it is, she really has no choice. But it occurred to me just how liberating it is. It’s an enlightened state. Buddha would encourage us all to “be in the moment” whenever we can. Has Mom inadvertently found a way to achieve this?
She rarely thinks of the past, can’t remember what she just did five minutes ago, and doesn’t seem to think at all about what is to come. And surprisingly, there’s something very healing and refreshing about this.
We have been having good visits, my Mom and I. Quality time spent, enjoying our “moments” one after the next. I’m the one haunted with memories. Trying to manoeuvre my way through my own loss; navigating this new reality. I’ll strive for enlightenment, but for now, I’m so grateful for the memories and those moments we share together now.