This month marks one year since we put my 88 year old mother into long term care and it’s interesting to reflect on her progress this past year.
To date she has never tried to leave. My father visits her regularly and she seems to accept without question that he eventually must go and she cannot – this is a blessing. That said, it is unlikely that she even knows he’s her husband. He just seems to be that nice man who comes to visit, and yet she knows she was married. We know this for certain because she’s lashed out in jealousy when other patients were with a man, a man she believed to be her husband.
My sister (the primary contact for the home) has received frequent phone calls advising my mother has belted yet another resident for no good reason, and they need to up her medication to calm her. At the moment these are the only signs of aggressive behaviour but according to the doctor, it’s likely to escalate. There is a very distinct pattern of behaviour within the stages of Dementia.(none of them pretty) Patients are prone to wandering, and stealing. On one visit we noted my mother was sporting an arm full of various bracelets. Apparently she roamed other residents rooms rummaging through their things and collected all their ID bracelets because she liked them. This is not uncommon. They take each others clothing, food, and toys, like children.
In the past 8 years we’ve seen my mother decline from competent, mature adult, to confused and addled old lady. And in the past year alone, she has been further reduced to a babbling, incoherent, and unpredictable child, prone to tantrums and rash behaviour. Life really does test us.
If she were of sound mind she would be mortified at her own behaviour so I guess it’s very fortunate, for her, that she has no conscious knowledge of her own existence. For us however, it’s a constant reminder of the one we lost and with each day it gets harder and harder to remember when she was healthy and vibrant – it seems so long ago. Her behaviour gets more irrational and shocking with each day, and it’s hard not to let that image take over…..but fight it we must because she lived a strong, proud, and accomplished life, and that deserves a respectful memory.
When I visit my mother I struggle to appear normal, happy even, but truth told, I feel sick and I can hardly wait to leave. I’m not proud of this reaction. I love my mother. She gave me life and taught me how to live it, with love. I don’t know who this woman is and I don’t know if I ever will because in my heart my mother is already gone. I pay homage to this childlike old woman simply out of respect for what was her life, and because I think no one should be abandoned in old age (or any age for that matter)
So I will continue to visit this unfamiliar old lady/child and cling to my memories of the woman who once was. And when the home calls my sister to say she’s taken a punch at another resident (she never actually hurts anyone, much too weak) we thank God she’s in a place that can manage her. As for her childlike behaviours, the kleptomania, the playing with dolls, we have to laugh, because these are the harmless activities of a deteriorating mind, and if you don’t laugh, you’ll just cry, and we’ve done enough of that.