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Dementia: Saying Goodbye Too Early

Updated on April 26, 2011

Photo by Paul Moody: Flickr


To my mom.

After my father passed away, my mother seemed to slip into dementia almost immediately. To be honest, at first I had no idea what was going on. I thought it was just grief, that she was just overcome with it, and time would help her to return to her old self. But as the weeks went by it was clear that something else was wrong, something I never saw coming. Many people think that when someone has dementia or Alzheimer's, they just forget things. Well, they do, but they also have personality changes. The person you once knew will act out in ways you can't believe and it is startling to see this.

My dear mother was one of the sweetest people you'd ever meet. She was caring and giving and sensitive. When the dementia set in, she would get very angry at me, and say things she would never have said. Things I knew she didn't mean, as we were very close and knew each other so well we could practically read each others minds. But even though you know they're not themselves, it still hurts. The forgetfulness started out slowly and then got worse, until she sometimes didn't know who I was. I was lucky enough to be living at home so I could take care of her full time. That was a blessing to me that I didn't have to put her in a home. As draining as it was, I was glad to have every minute with her I could and know she was being taken care of properly.

The thing that hurt me the most was her not knowing me, thinking I was a nurse or someone visiting that she didn't recognize. It's like you've lost them, but they are still there physically. It's saying goodbye too early. When my dad was sick, I also was lucky enough to be able to care for him until his last breath. They both passed away at home and I was with them until the end. But with my dad, we got to say our goodbyes. To say all the things you need to and know they heard you. To have that final goodbye is so important.

With my mom, I didn't get to do that. I would tell her things, but realized she wasn't comprehending what I was saying. The only glimmer of hope is that there are times when you feel they might "be there", even if just for a moment. My mom and I always told each other how much we loved one another and so I have to be grateful for that. But I would have loved to have been able to tell her one more time before she was gone and know that she understood me. I talk to her all the time and hope she hears me where she is now. I also always pray that in those last moments, she was "herself" and heard my final goodbye.


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