My Mother first showed signs of dementia ten years ago. Currently she believes she is in her early twenties and has no memory of me. Yesterday she announced that the Kleenex in her hand was a book of secrets. Her slow decline has gradually allowed me to adjust to the surprising attributes of a demented mind. The toilet brush in the refrigerator, a banana peel in her Ugh and a flashlight flushed down the toilet are all in a day. The more recent turn towards violence over not being responded to instantly, even by the people on television who she often talks to, is most difficult. Mom loses her teeth and hides things like cutlery and half eaten fruit in her diaper. When I threw a nasty diaper away that she believed was something precious worth saving I was admonished in a hissing voice with, “You go lick your own ass!” When I threw out the used ‘book of secrets’ she scorned, “You are the kind of person who really should hate yourself.” When I asked her to say something nice, she responded by punching me in the ribs.
I called a plumber when the toilet overflowed because there is little time to fix anything myself. I had taped the lid closed to prevent it from being used until it was repaired. In a logical world that would have stopped most people. Undeterred Mom took a dump on the lid. I keep heavy duty gloves and a respirator on standby because cleaning up shit is a reality with people who barely recognize one end from the other.
Mom has taught me more patience than if I joined a monastery. She has numbed me into never taking anything personally. I work out to improve my health because taking care of both Mom and Dad last year nearly did me in. After many months of insane stress and little sleep I had developed a heart condition and it turns out that frequent hard exercise is the best remedy. Time at the gym is not frivolous. Hopefully I’m not mistaken, but I believe we are here to learn. Mom’s evenings during sun downing are a nightmare of anxiety, instant rage and confused sentiments. In her best moments she is maudlin, nonsensical or asleep. She is rarely likeable, but occasionally a human speaks through her and she sincerely thanks me for helping her. Her actions are unpredictable and I keep a wary eye on her hands to make sure she is not carrying anything sharp. A few weeks ago she walked out of the bedroom with her breasts stretched out in her hands leering at me while demanding, “Suck on these!” To her I might look like a man who she hopes would be interested in such things. To me it is a horror I do not always know how to cope with. For the last six months I’ve been on duty for seventeen hours a day, seven days a week and all day Sunday. I rarely get a full night’s sleep and sometimes make up for it during the day when another care giver takes over.
Last week when we were discussing care options for Mom my brother said, “At least it is not stressful.” In charitable moments I interpret his comment as, “Way to go sis, you have miraculously found the strength to cope with this nightmare since you’re not showing signs of your health deteriorating from the stress again.” What part of this isn’t stressful? A few nights a week I get to paint if I can talk Mom into going to bed early or I forgo sleep for the privilege. Time at the gym is not extra-curricular. It is akin to putting on my own oxygen mask before helping a child. Hiking in the surrounding hills offers a restorative serenity found solely in the beauty of nature and those moments are not negotiable either. I have much to be grateful for and no regrets, although so far I have yet to banish the hope that my Mom will see who I truly am. On the deepest level isn’t that what we all want? To be seen and heard without judgment? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive unconditional goodwill from the people closest to us? It is more often wished for than found, but definitely easier to strive for than licking your own ass.
|me at Castle Rock near Mt. Diablo (thanks Karen!)|
|lone leafless tree|
|sun flare over rocks that look like Stonehenge|
|Diablo Foothills, Walnut Creek, California|
|serene pond with an egret near Shell Ridge|
|friends on a fallen giant|