Dealing with Dementia
She’s been greeting my siblings “Happy New Year!” each time they call now. When I finally asked her today why she does that, she said that it will be New Year soon as Christmas is fast approaching. I gently reminded her that it’s just May. She slapped her forehead and said that she thought it was already November.
My Mom is 80 next year and she suffers from dementia. Her psychiatrist says that she is entering the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Her memory lapses are more frequent now and narrowly spaced. Just a few days ago we went shopping for her clothes and decided to have dinner in the same mall. I asked her if she liked the blouses that we bought but the question only brought a confused look on her face. It hadn’t been an hour since she’d been trying on the clothes at the store but she had no recollection of it at all. I showed her the bag and she gushed about how beautiful the tops were, as if she was seeing them for the very first time.
It does seem like she sees everything for the first time now. I guess it’s a good thing too because she appreciates every good thing each time and she never runs out of compliments :). On our way home from Tagaytay on Mother’s Day, we stopped by the roadside flower shops so that she can buy flowering plants for her garden. She loves her garden. She got her green thumb from her Father. Although, there’s been a few instances when her plants die because of too much fertilizer. Yes, she forgets and re-fertilizes. And she never listens when reminded. Anyway, when she saw the flowers the next day, she was so curious as to where they came from but was genuinely happy at the burst of color her garden now has.
Actually, she is not so stubborn anymore now. A couple of years ago when we decided to have her live with us instead of just by herself and a caretaker, the first few months of living with her were so stressful. We were both confused – she didn’t understand why she had to live with us, and I didn’t understand why she was that way. Our conversations are repeated 4-5 times a day. It used to drive me crazy (and it still does!) and I detested her. I couldn’t understand how my Mother who had been an educator all her life while running our entire household can be this woman who was no longer capable of taking care of herself. She was highly respected and everybody went to her for advice – from her co-teachers at the university were she served as Dean, to my adult siblings who would call her regularly for motherly counsel and her recipes.
It didn’t help that I didn’t have a close relationship with her. The last time she helped me with school work was when I was in second grade. She was always exhausted and had to work even on Saturdays. She slept early and woke up early. Every morning before work she’d go to the market to have the first pick at produce and fish. She was so busy that, because she did not have time to put on makeup in the morning, she had her eyelids tattooed for the permanent eyeliner effect. I know people who have their eyebrows tattooed on, but never the eyelids. My Mother was bad-ass. Because I attended the same school she taught in, I’d usually wait for her until she was done for the day and my Dad would pick us up. As I entered high school though, I saw less and less of her. It didn’t help that I left home to pursue college in Manila. Our gap widened and, now that I think about it, she never called me to ask how I were, nor I, her. She was probably too busy to worry about me and was assured that I’d be okay since I lived with my sister. Even as I had gone back home after I graduated and studied for about a couple of years there, I still didn’t get to see nor talk to her often and it didn’t seem to bother me.
She was always very independent. She would commute – ride the jeep, the pedicab (trisikad) all the time, wherever she went even after she retired (which scared the hell out of us!). Although her parents were against her marrying my Dad, she went on to wed him and had eleven children despite the hardships. They struggled through the years as a couple and may have almost given up on their marriage once or twice in the past, but their bond was stronger than steel and they pulled through. So I can only imagine how devastated she must have felt when my Dad succumbed to cancer just a few months after he was diagnosed in early 2006. However, come to think of it, I had never seen her cry. I asked my sister, who was with her when Dad died, if she saw Mom cry at the time, and she said that she can’t remember that she did. Maybe she kept it all herself. The woman is a rock. A few weeks ago, I broke the news to her about her brother’s passing (they were very close while they were growing up) and she was stunned, but no tears were shed. She also forgot about it a few hours later.
I take this time with her now as our chance to make up for the times we had lost while I was growing up. Except now our roles are reversed – I worry about her now and how she is, what she eats, etc. She is my young child who can no longer do anything unsupervised.
Dealing with dementia is tough – more so for her than for me I would think. During the early days of her living with us, we’ve had a couple of shouting matches that reduced me to tears due to shame and regret. I knew that it was not her fault that she’s developing that condition, but I am my Mother’s daughter and I am stubborn. I could not accept it. Yet, she accepted me even when I was cross to her. And I was cross to her a lot! Which was why I felt worse after. When I apologized, she’d kiss me (we never had that kind of relationship before; I didn’t even get hugged by her as a child). Nowadays, I get kissed and hugged a lot. I also started telling her that I love her (and my Dad when he was still around) a few years ago and I guess it helped lessen the anonymity. Because I really do love her. I love her with all my heart.
Even when sometimes I feel like I’m in crazy world talking about the same things with her over and over again.