“Dementia. Ruth puzzled over the diagnosis: How could such a beautiful-sounding word apply to such a destructive disease? It was a name befitting a goddess: Dementia, who caused her sister Demeter to forget to turn winter into spring.”
― Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter
The Weekly Photo Challenge is Blur. As I sorted through photos for the weekly photo challenge, I discovered that I erased all of my blurred photos, except for this one taken by my mother. We were at a dance in her assisted living center and she wanted to take a photo. I lent her my camera and showed her how to push the button. But, her hands were shaking uncontrollably, and her photo showed a blurred image of two people…a caretaker and a patient with dementia enjoying a dance together.
My mother has Vascular Dementia with Lewy Bodies. I imagine her life is blurred like this photo. Her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories are held hostage in her head barricaded by plaques and tangles. Studying this photo, I see a blurred life, a mother I love disappearing and melting away like the ice-cube I dropped on the floor. As the disease advances, she becomes blurrier and more translucent, like a wisp of a ghost.
I wonder, “Do you only know yourself and others because of your memories?” Someday, she won’t recognize me. I try to prepare myself for the inevitable. That’s why I make regular trips back to the states, for I know that someday, she will look at me as a friendly visitor instead of a beloved daughter. I’m learning to say a tearful goodbye to the past, but it’s difficult.
If there is a kind of bizarre and dark bliss built into dementia, I hope my mother has it. She seems to have an immunity to the fear of death and abandonment. She has a wicked sense of humor. When she sees monkeys in the tree outside her window and we ask her what they are doing, she says, “Monkey shines.”
My mom lives in a world of her own and we have learned the art of improvising. Why tell her otherwise? If she believes my brother is a moose hunter in Canada or I am a nurse in Africa, what difference does it make? We can go on safaris together, collect moose heads for the mantel above the fireplace, and have all kinds of strange adventures without leaving her memory care center.
I suppose this post should make me feel depressed and hopeless, but it doesn’t. I love my mother for whomever she is at the moment…and believe me, her identity can transform in a second from a special education teacher (which she never was, but I was), to a water ballet instructor, to a concert pianist. She makes me laugh, we laugh together, and life is good…even though it is entirely a make-believe world.
When my mom loses the ability to speak, I will still feel her in my heart, for connections are made in the heart and not with the tongue. She will always be my mother. For, I’ve learned that life is what we make it. It isn’t about finding or losing yourself…it’s about creating yourself, and my mother recreates herself everyday.
Life is but a beautiful dream…even a blurred life.