A Familiar Stranger
Common Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
These can include but not limited to:
- Memory Loss
- Inability to reason
- inappropriate behavior
- personality changes
- unable to communicate
- difficulty with organizing thoughts
- lack of motor skills
Coping with Dementia
The melodious sound of bells announced my entrance simultaneously with the widening of the door. Opening the vinyl door is like going through time-every time. Smells assailing your senses as you go further in the house, some lingering aromas of foods cooked recently-others more permanent.
The Georgian home was built in the late 1800's and had its share of dust, ancient furniture and squeaky flooring. The sounds of howling wind blowing through old window panes, in the winter, and loud thunderstorms in the spring-are never forgotten.
"Hello? Is someone there?"
My mother's mild somewhat shaky and questioning voice could be heard from another part of the house. She lived alone in the expansive home, but remarkably, did not exemplify a lot of fear. Perhaps, that recedes when suffering with Dementia. Or maybe once living in a home with so many people, in a small town, and for so many years- you get comfortable.
Raised in a family of 3 girls, she was known as the shy one. As an adult, she met a handsome Lieutenant in the Air Force, my father, during World War II. She was a pretty woman; petite, amber hair and as men would say, she had had a voluptuous figure.
I didn't know growing up what passive-aggressive personality meant. If I had, it would have answered so many questions,as well as prepared my 5 sisters, 2 brothers and I during many sad times. Comparisons were made more than praises; grudges were held more than hands. She hid behind my burly Irish father's belief; show me your love, don't tell me." And, 'words are cheap.' Words might be cheap, but I would have been satisfied with even an empty gesture.
Favoring children was an accepted practice in my mother's parental handbook. Some of us could handle it some of us, could not. She favored a sister that was more like her in temperament and personality. As tenacious as she protected her- just as fierce she attacked her. Looking back, maybe they were too much alike. My sister-having the very same idiosyncrasies my mother deplored in herself- didn't always bear well for that sibling. Sad to say, she grew up resenting the similarities between she and my mother and their lack of independence , as well as self-confidence.
As we grew up and out of the home, there were many battles that had arisen amongst us. Sometimes they were small and easily diffused. The more serious, could elicit both parties in boycotting the others family for years. The root of most conflicts? That would be my mom. She practiced the age old tactic of telling one what the other said; regardless if they really did, in fact, say it. It eliminated ownership or responsibility to the claim.
I, myself, had been in the throngs of such a battle with a few of my siblings including my mother. I retreated for a safer, quieter world; until I received the news of my mother's diagnosis of Dementia. Being a woman with blood flowing through her veins and a heart pumping the aforementioned blood, I could only do one thing. Go to her.
The day I walked in the house after a 2 1/2 year absence was scary but at the same time somewhat cleansing. I never knew my mother to be outwardly aggressive nor, confrontational. I had no delusions that she would be ordering out of her home. I was fearful, however, that she would start up with the old game playing.
"Oh hi!", laughing at my new dog's antics while he was sniffing her feet.
"I wish I had his energy!", she stated more than once. Clearly thrilled to see my daughter, with repetitive remarks on her height and the shock each time she was informed of her age.
Sitting before me was a quiet, lovely, elderly woman who was excited at the mere presence of a daughter and granddaughter. Two that had been estranged for a period of time she probably couldn't recall . I felt like a true visitor in my old home. She was just as cordial as she was animated in her small talk. I felt the guilt seeping through my pores as the sadness took its place in my heart. She was kind as much as she was appreciative. Appreciating the visit and demanding a return trip.
Dementia is a malady that takes all that you really have that is worthwhile when you are left alone- your memories. It is an unwelcome interloper that robs the aged of their pride and independence. In our family, however, the time my mother has left on this earth will be time spent with family members that may want to lay their swords down and remove all battle lines.
I don't want my mother to slip any further in to the world of the unknown, but greedily, I want her to continue with warm reminiscing of happy moments within her lifetime. My mother had never used an endearment of any kind, just my name. Now, I am greeted by a smiling warm face, clearly happy to see one of her own and the added 'hon' that accompanies our conversations. Gone are inhibitions and pettiness. Instead; every written note and conversation ends with a warm salutation.
This may very well be the last holiday with my mom, I thank God for his blessing and a last chance at a warm, happy relationship; getting to know my mother without boundaries. I want to be able to provide her the most loving, patient and supportive caregiver that I can possibly be, while making her journey to the final stage of her life here on earth. I guess I want to say goodbye to a woman that had given birth to me, fed me, and provided me with all of the basics, maybe not a lot of extras, but in retrospect, it may have been the best she was capable of providing.
There are, I am sure, difficult days to come. The lapse in recall are becoming more frequent , her sadness in everyone's departure, more apparent. Ironically I have reunited with one sister that stuck by a brother during some turbulent discussions regarding my mother's home. Some of us have mended a few fences. Thankfully, my mother no longer remembers those conflicts or the hurt she felt from my brother's hatred. Instead- she giggles with glee when a few of us come together, bringing a lot of noise and laughter. I can only assume, it puts her back to a a place she can actually recall-her home filled with children.