I don’t know how best to explain the daily slaps in the face that happen as the beginning of late stage dementia takes hold.
Today when I entered my mother’s room she looked legitimately happy to see me, we exchanged pleasantries, and she even complimented me on the color of my shirt. I try to wear bright solid colored shirts for her because that fashion loving side of her still exists and is ever present.
Her compliments now, as always, have a way of making me feel proud and special at the same time. I left her room buoyed at the thought of it being a “good day” and to put the floor sensor away, and grab the applesauce to assist with the pill swallowing. When I return to her bedside, she again compliments me on the color of my shirt but then adds, “the other girl had that same color on, she just left.” And there is the slap.
I do my best to keep the smile on my face, maintain eye contact with her and brush off the comment, even though I feel nauseous and unsteady on my feet.
No matter how hard I try, I just don’t think I will ever understand how a caregiver is supposed to handle that. How a daughter is supposed to handle that. I look at her and see her confusion, and try my best to alleviate her worries and fears all the while knowing she may not even know who I am. I used to think it was enough that at least she liked me, whoever I was to her, and I still do but now, now it elicits this sadness and uncertainly in me.
There are moments she knows I am Rosanne, her youngest daughter, followed immediately, and I mean in seconds, by her thinking I am some other girl who is here. I haven’t allowed myself the chance to actually sit with that and feel all that goes with it because I am afraid. Afraid of that feeling. Afraid of what that means. Afraid that we are crossing yet another threshold into the deeper spaces of dementia. And yet I know, intellectually, that is exactly what is happening.
I know this. We are where we are and there is no going back. I know she will not suddenly wake up one day and ask me what happened to my dog or if my girls graduated from high school yet.
So I continue doing the only thing I know how. Be grateful for each day we have, accept what is, and try to make her surroundings and her interactions with me, whoever I am, as happy and as comforting as the day allows.