Hallmark doesn’t have a Mother’s day card for this occasion
If you met my mother today, you would think she was crazy. And you would be right. I have the doctor’s note to prove it.
She spends most of her day sleeping, or sitting in a chair shredding Kleenex.
At age 85, my mother has retreated to a place where I cannot go. She no longer recognizes us, talks to us or lets us touch her without pulling away. This is not the kind of Mother’s Day relationship that Hallmark addresses in a greeting card.
In some office cabinet or computer database, there is a file with her name, date of birth and diagnosis – dementia.
I looked up “dementia” in the dictionary: “severely impaired memory and reasoning ability, usually with disturbed behavior, associated with damaged brain tissue.”
Before Mother ventured the wrong way down Memory Lane, she was leading quite a life. She raised four children virtually by herself and went back to work long before it was politically correct, running a municipal children’s library program renowned in the county where we lived. She loved her job more every day and didn’t retire until she was 70.
We weren’t paying much attention as she gradually declined. My sister looked in on her almost every day, but Mother wasn’t one to complain.
She fell and broke her hip and went straight to a nursing home from the hospital. None of us volunteered to take her in as her generation did with their parents. So, we did what millions of other children our age are doing: We surrendered her to the senior care industry.
At first, it was all pink and pretty. Mother had a lovely room with a beautiful view. We surrounded her with pictures and little objects from home that meant so much to her. She had three meals a day which she didn’t have to fix. It’s heaven, we told her.
Then she began to make trouble. For the first time in her life, my sweet Mother said not only “no,” but “hell, no.” She adopted the persona of a political prisoner – she became the Mohandas Gandhi of Carrington Manor. She exerted the little control she had over her life in small acts of civil disobedience.
Whenever any of us visited, Mother would beg us to spring her. Every time she saw me, relief would cross her face. “You’re going to take me home, aren’t you?”
Prim and proper, Mother wouldn’t let strangers give her a bath. Her wedding and engagement rings disappeared. She was belligerent and mean, they said. She was demented, crazy, irrational.
That kind of behavior earned her an upgrade to the Alzheimer’s floor.
Mother was depressed, so they gave her medicine to cheer her up; she was nasty, so she takes something that makes her nice.
And now, fortified by a chemical cocktail, she sits in a chair and sleeps away her day. She’s locked up – excuse me, “secured” – so she can’t make a run for it.
The only gifts she wanted we couldn’t give – her dignity and her freedom. So, she escaped on her own terms, moving on to a higher plane where she doesn’t have to take a bath, worry about pleasing people she doesn’t like or make nice.
We keep labeling her: demented, depressed, old. But I think the labels are for us. She’s just Mother, spending her days now asleep in a chair, while we struggle to make sense of what’s become of her and what lies ahead for us.
Dementia adds a troubling ripple to the family gene pool alongside the prematurely grey hair, freckles, and a tendency not to ask for help until it’s too late.
I hope in her secret place she gets a little chuckle now and then knowing that I’m the one misplacing my eyeglasses or leaving the keys in the front door.
I have come to realize that she is teaching me about this phase of her life just like she taught me to read, tie my shoes and say my prayers. It’s one of those lessons I am not eager to learn, but I better pay attention. Like everything else in her life, my mother does dementia very well. I love you, Mom, wherever you are.
– Sheila Gardner is editor of The Record-Courier.