As my mother’s short-term memory and her confusion in unfamiliar surroundings and situations started to kick into high gear, we both went through a transition period. Or rather I should say, multiple levels of transition.
She was trying to mentally process her memory loss and in an effort to compensate, she wrote everything down. Problem was she did not always understand the incomplete phrases she had scribbled down on her note pad. Or she couldn’t find one of her note pads. Or her notes featured nothing more than a date and a time and my name.
When I would treat her to lunch out at a restaurant, she would look at the menu as if it was written in a foreign language she did not read or speak. And when the waitress rattled off the specials of the day, she would put on her “polite mask” and try to appear interested. It was simply too much information coming at her in one session. So, she would compensate by asking me what I was having. Knowing this, I would make my choice for a selection I knew was something she liked. And always, always, always…made sure her favorite cheesecake was available for desert. After all, dementia or no dementia…cheesecake takes priority.
My transitions were more emotionally reactive in nature. As our verbal communications became more fractured and less consistent, logic and analytical thought no longer had a place to thrive. I had to learn how to go with the flow. To take each step in the process as part of the entire journey. Learn when to duck and when to take the punch. Flexibility and patience became my mantras.
Most importantly, I had to find method which allowed my mother to acknowledge and accept her failing mental and physical abilities, while still maintaining a sense of dignity and self-worth. And as importantly, I had to find a method which alleviated the ever-present feeling my head was going to explode.
It would have been easy for me to point a finger at my mother and proclaim she was the problem. But she wasn’t. She wasn’t trying to be difficult. She wasn’t trying to work on my worse nerve. She wasn’t doing it on purpose. It was not her personally. It was the dementia.
My mother has always said that she and I have an honest and open relationship. That we can talk to each other about anything. And for the most part she is right. And as the deadline for my mother to move into assisted living got closer, I saw her stress level rise. And with it, our communications continued to tank. So, I took the plunge.
I sat her down and said we needed to have a heart-to-heart. I told her we had always been honest with each other. And now more than ever, the honesty needed to be blunt. I told her she was moving into assisted living because the time had come when she needed help and could no longer live on her own. And that if it were up to just her and I, the move would be a breeze. Because we were independent and intelligent women. And we can do anything we set our minds to.
I told her our problem was we now had a new player in the game. And as I pointed to the empty chair across the room, I told her our new playmate’s name was Missy Dementia. And Missy Dementia was not our friend. She was nasty. And she had very sharp claws.
When I saw the relief in my mother’s face, quickly followed by a sparkle of humor in her eyes, I knew I had found the right solution. And as we continued through the process of preparing for the move, we did so with a fresh perspective and a new understanding. Of each other. Of the situation we now found ourselves in. My mother and I were no longer battling each other. Together, we were battling Missy Dementia.
When a difficult situation would arise, I would tell my mother that Missy Dementia was trying to spoil our game. And she embraced the concept so well, she would point at that chair and say “Missy Dementia, you go away now! We don’t have time for your nonsense today!” Then turn to me and grin.
When I shared my newfound discovery with our family doctor, explaining my thought process and the invention of our imaginary playmate, along with my mother’s positive response…he responded with enthusiasm. He told me it was a terrific idea. Brilliant. And one he planned on sharing, if I didn’t mind.
I told him I didn’t mind in the least. And I didn’t know much about being brilliant. It was simply a matter of mental self-preservation and emotional survival. For me. And for my mother.