Mom's dementia saves our relationship
When I was young, I fell in school and got a deep gash, covered in black gravel, on my knee. The staff rushed me to a clinic. I screamed through the picking and stitching – the worst moments of my life.
Afterward, waiting to be picked up by school staff, I heard my name called. I turned and saw my mother, hands full of groceries, looking at me with huge, concerned eyes. I felt so safe.
I have no idea how she happened to be there, but she’s always managed to be there.
After my father died, she moved in with me and my husband, Mark.
Two years ago, she suffered a stroke. She woke up, paranoid and delusional, as if in the midst of a psychological thriller.
She accused us of abusing our grownup kids and my brother's in-laws of cheating and stealing her money, of scheming to murder him. She thought she owned multiple houses. She told the stroke unit nurses how I tried to kill her by infusing poison into her skull.
Her demons were fantastic, but had a consistent victim – my brother.
Finally, she agreed to move in with my brother in Virginia – to protect him, of course. For a year and a half, I didn’t talk to her. Honestly, I needed the break.
Two months ago, Covid hit my brother’s family. He called: “Pick her up before she gets sick too.”
Mark and I drove 17 hours round trip and brought her home.
During the ride, I braced for assault. I put her in the front passenger seat. Because:
A. There’s more room.
B. I could see and care for her better from behind.
C. In case she wanted to claw somebody, she couldn’t get to me. (Sorry, Mark.)
But nothing happened. She was calmly confused. Every few minutes, she’d ask where we’re going. She loved the car ride, marveled at the shiny, gigantic 18-wheelers that whizzed by.
At the end, we all got Covid. Thanks to vaccinations and Paxlovid, my 89-year-old mother was congested for a day.
When we all recovered, she thought she’d never left us.
Soon, I noticed that her short- and long-term memory were so bad that she couldn’t remember all the fancy ways I tried to kill her.
Our conversation is simple, repetitive. “When are the kids coming home?” “Don’t bother me. I’ve already exercised/showered/brushed my teeth today.”
She’s lost weight. She’s never hungry and eats once a day. She starts the day with left knee pain, ends the day with back pain. Our food is too salty, too cold, too sour. She’s up at night tinkering with things.
I microwave her orange juice, turn on TV when she eats. Because I worry more about her deconditioning than her weight loss, daily exercise is our new religion. Once a week, my brother, his family and our family join in on FaceTime and cheer loudly.
When I get creative with our exercises, Mom gets creative with her comments, “Maybe you find a horse to torture?” But she hangs in there.
Yesterday, she got up four times from the chair by herself. Rock me Amadeus!
Months ago, I’d never have thought dementia would give me a second chance with Mom.