Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And She's Just Fine

A week went by since I'd had a chance to visit G'ma.  I'd meant to stop by on Thursday night before I left for Sedona, but life and laundry got in the way.  I could have gone over Sunday afternoon,but my hot tub and the end of the Lee Child thriller and a complete reluctance to get back in the car after 238 miles of travel kept me right here at home.

I didn't feel guilty.  I knew she was safe and well cared for.  I knew she wasn't alone.  I knew she wouldn't remember how many days had passed.  That's the good and the bad part of her demented brain.

Demented is a very strange word.  I hear the cackles of Bedlam Asylum and conjure up an image of Mr. Hyde's wild eyes and teeth and hair, nothing relating to any other part of the whole.  It's an untethered feeling with a lack of control.  Yet that doesn't resemble my lovely white haired mother at all.  She looks just fine.  She's not forgotten the social graces and she's still able to pretend to follow what's going on.  I know that there are times when she loses the beginning of the sentence by the time I've come to the end, but sometimes my sentences are really long and convoluted and involve a change or two of venue and actors.  TBG often loses track, too.

I'm not diminishing the severity of what's happened to her brain.  I did that for a very long time.  Whether or not it is possible for her to expand her capabilities has become less the issue than the fact that she shows little interest in doing exercises of any sort.  Neither physical therapists' prescriptions nor brain games in books or on-line hold any interest for her.  She's happily making herself content by watching Law'n re-runs and ogling Mark Harmon on NCIS and if the word-find books also stimulate her brain well that's just dandy but it's not the reason she's doing them.  She likes them.  They don't require her to remember where she left off in the narrative the way a novel or a magazine article would.  Being the orderly soul that she is, G'ma starts with the first clue and makes a check next to it once she's circled it on the grid.  Then she moves on to the next clue.  She's been doing this for decades and I've never once seen her skip a clue.  She sets high standards for herself.  To me, that's as valuable a quality as a more quantitative analysis of her brain function might be.

Why?  Because it's a piece of who she always was that remains intact despite the dementia.  And yes, she is certainly demented.  Just ask her.  She knows.

Infoplease defines the Latin root of the prefix de thusly
away, off; generally indicates reversal or removal in English
and that's really what's happened.   Her memory is away, off site, and usually non-responsive.  Instead of incorporating new information it is doing the reverse, rejecting the data as quickly as it appears. That which was once there has been removed from the storage banks.  "Oy, my memory....." is G'ma's all-purpose lament.

I can't imagine how frightening it must be to feel lost all the time.  Though she's lived in the pod-castle for 14 months now, finding her apartment is still a challenge.  I know that she is never far from a friendly worker-bee who will escort her directly to her couch and who will be sure that she's comfy under her blanket and that the remote control is close at hand before leaving her alone, but she doesn't remember that.  Each and every time we enter the front or back door she gives a rueful laugh and says exactly the same thing: "It's a good thing you are here with me because otherwise I wouldn't have the faintest idea of where I am or where I am going."  Each and every time.  It's like Quasimodo swinging from that damn bell, back and forth, pounding my innards and hurting my heart.  I'm glad she's self-aware enough so that wandering off is not a problem, but I worry that she's a prisoner of her limitations.

Then I look at her and she's smiling.  She's with me and she's safe and she's just telling me how she's feeling in the moment.  She's glad I'm there and so am I.  My reaction is selfish, though understandable.  I'll always want her to be my mommy and in many ways she is If I cry she's got all the right stuff still at her fingertips and lips.  I can kvetch about my siblings or children or spouse and her reactions are predictable and appropriate because somehow she retains the emotional baggage attached to each one of them.

But day to day her mentation has slipped away and I miss what might have been. She was a smart, thoughtful woman who read books and was engaged in the world around her.  Now she's a smart thoughtful woman who can't remember much except that she's not stupid, just forgetful.  But then I look at her and she's smiling and I remind myself that this is her issue and she's dealing with it gracefully and thoughtfully and intelligently.

If she can handle it, well then, so can I.

I am her daughter, after all.

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