Other times she’s more the age she is in this picture. Early thirties or late twenties. Her children are still young. Her husband still needs to have supper cooked for him. A lot of the time she can’t understand why he doesn’t want to come around anymore. Lately that has changed somewhat to she just talked to him this morning or he just left. At times it feels as though I’m in the midst of a crowd of invisible people – those she sees in her memory’s eye who are so real to her. She’ll ask, “Has Maggie left?” Or “Where did she go?” I’ve never known a Maggie in our family or any friend of Mom’s named Maggie now or in the past. Well, we did have a Maggie cat once, but she’s talking about a person and not a cat.
Most of the time it is a name I do know. People who have passed on. Her sisters. Her mother and father. My father. She sometimes doesn’t know me now. I’m way too old. Older than she is. I tease about that with my kids – about how they somehow got older than me. But I never imagined that someday, if dementia steals my reality, I might actually think that had happened.
And all that is why the truth no longer matters. Until recently I tried to not actually lie when Mom heads back into her dementia reality. I skirted the truth and did my best to avoid responding directly when Mom talked about going to see her mother. I could distract her by talking about birds or the grandkids. But things have gotten worse now. I don’t think she knows she has grandchildren. And what a terrible loss that is. It makes me sad to think about it. Even sadder than when she says I’m her aunt or her sister-in-law. To lose your family seems the worst.
But then she hasn’t lost her beginning family. She went to the grocery store with her mother just this morning and should have helped her more. All the “others” will be here any time now and we might need to cook extra for them. Or when did they all leave? And why didn’t they let her ride home with them?
The truth of all the “others” having long ago left her and moved on up to heaven does nothing but make her very sad for about five minutes. Then she forgets that you’ve told her that and starts asking where the “others” are all over again. Truth doesn’t matter. And so I’ve stopped telling the truth in plain words. Now I say that they’ve already gone home. I don’t have to add that home is heaven. I say maybe Dad is playing horseshoes. He could be, couldn’t he? I say they’ll all be waiting to see her tomorrow and then when tomorrow comes the tomorrow after that. I say it’s too dark to go anywhere. I say that everybody will be settled in wherever they are. I don’t say I saw Maggie or whoever appears in Mom’s dementia visions. I just say she must have left before I came. And so I lie because the truth no longer matters to my mother. The truth is way too sad.
Thanks for reading. I promise to come up with something more cheerful Wednesday, but I know a number of you have gone through the same things with your parents or loved ones that we're going through with my mother.