As my mother disappears…

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blurred image of author's mother reflecting the theme of the post, "As my mother disappears"

As my mother disappears, I find myself planning for an uncertain future.

She could be difficult. Scratch that. She was difficult. That, at least, has not changed. Deemed a flight risk, she’s not allowed out into the lobby of her memory care facility.

I also understand that, in a fit of temper, she single-handedly shoved all of her furniture, including a small bookcase filled with books, out into the hallway. She weighs about 80 pounds! But that incredible stubbornness? That has always been a feature as well as a bug.

She wasn’t prepared for this, and she wants to go home.

What puzzles me the most, though, is how she never planned for this possibility, and how she managed to remain in denial for so long once the forgetting started.

She saw it happen to her mother. The loss of memories, thoughts, cognition. The challenges of caring for her. The need to have her contained for her own safety.

I watch my mother’s inevitable decline, and I see my future. It worries me enough that I have begun talking to my family about when, not if…

Each time I find myself flailing for a word or phrase, I have to remind myself that it’s perfectly normal, especially with all I have going on. Only, a part of me worries…Is this a sign? And even if it’s not, how would I know? How do we recognize our own decline? Especially, when the spectrum of decline—how it appears, what it affects, how rapidly it progresses—is so varied.

Is allowing for a certain level of absentmindedness a slippery slope? A coping mechanism? Or worse, an act of wading step-by-step into denial?

I want to be ready. I need to be prepared, but how do we prepare for something, the shape of which we will not know until it is upon us, if even then?

Over the years, my mother had an excuse for everything. “Well, I’m 86…87…88 and my memory isn’t so good. It’s natural to forget things.”

When she was having trouble processing language, it was because she couldn’t hear me well enough. Bad phone connection. Too much noise.

When she forgot who I was and asked for my email address so we could stay in touch, after all, we had so much in common, it was because she’d had a few drinks.

Sadly, her stubborn refusal to see what was happening likely exacerbated and sped up the process. Her unwillingness to admit to her hearing loss and obstinate refusal to wear her hearing aids—conveniently losing one pair after another—didn’t help.

“I need you to tell me,” I say to my husband. “I need  you to help me see it coming,” I tell the kids. “I need you to remind me when it’s time to seek help. I need to know when I begin to slip away.”

I don’t want to make excuses. I want to boldly face the enemy, to fight the good fight, even if I end up battling windmills.

There are options, treatments to help, medications, ways to slow the progress. There is hope.

Ultimately, I need to be ready to do the work. The work of fighting and, more importantly, the work of accepting.

Because it’s impossible to fight something while denying its existence.


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Looking for information about dementia? Check out The Spectrum of Hope by Gayatri Devi, MD

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