Dementia: Fifty shades of sh*tty.
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
"Well hello there, Ms. Glitz! How are you?"
"Why I'm fifty shades of shitty, pard'ner. And yourself?"
Spoiler Alert: There is nothing the least bit sexy in this post.
Last Friday Mom fell in the shower. My sister had succeeded in getting her in (the last shower we've been able to accomplish) only to have her fall when getting out. The Other Girl knew she was going down, but couldn't keep her upright so she held onto her as best she could to minimize the impact. Mom still hit her head on the shower wall. 911 was called immediately. As we waited my sister remained crouched on the cold bathroom tile, cradling Mom's head and shoulders as she lay on the shower floor, reassuring her, coaxing her to stay awake, to keep her eyes open. I came to the door with a blanket for Mom and saw The Other Girl drop her head gently to Mom's breasts, giving in to a quiet cry, as she did when a child. Mom's eyes were closed, her wet hair plastered to her face and neck. She looked peaceful, in a drowned-rat sort of way, and I thought, "This is it. This is our last day."
And amidst all the panic, I was flooded with overwhelming relief.
The ambulance arrived and in the ensuing bustle the feeling was swept aside, only to resurface as guilt in the ER while we waited for Mom to complete her CT scan. As I lay face up on a hospital bench in a long, sterile corridor, with tears threatening to drown out my words, I confided to The Other Girl my earlier sordid thoughts. "It's natural," she replied. And she's right. It is natural to welcome relief from difficult, arduous, painful circumstances, but it doesn't feel good all the same. It feels shitty.
Mom came through the fall with nothing but a sore right arm, and two daughters now even more apprehensive about keeping her clean. In other words, win/win for her.
So, January can suck it. I knew the pleasures and joys of November/December were going to end eventually ("I'll smack the Christmas right in 'ya!"), I just didn't expect it to come to a halt with such a vengeance: two emergency room visits within two weeks of each other, and in the span of a month's time a mother who has morphed into a monster of a different, shitty color; the color of fear, crushing sorrow, deep distrust, and hatred.
We can no longer console her. There is no turning a frown upside down anymore. Our opponent has crafted a battle plan that makes us obsolete. (Well played, Dementia.) It doesn't matter if we join her in her pacing. It doesn't matter if we offer soothing words of comfort, or a funny face, or a goofy dance. It's of no consequence what essential oil is in the diffuser, what familiar music is on the stereo, what preferred pudding flavor is offered to take her pills, what calming pressure points are massaged in her hands, whether we've crouched down to eye level, adopted the least threatening stance, voice, gestures. NONE OF IT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
None of it.
Besides grappling with the shame of experiencing a sweet sensation of relief when I thought that Mom was going to die a week ago, I now struggle with other thoughts that fill me with remorse:
If none of it matters, if her own daughters are unable to give her any relief from the grip of dementia, then why are The Other Girl and I doing it? If we can no longer achieve any reprieve for her, we who know her better than anyone left on the planet, then why not turn the whole thing over to complete strangers and let them fail instead? It won't kill them, like it's killing us.
I know I am not the first daughter/son/husband/wife/grandkid etc. to wrangle with the opposing options of giving a dementia loved one as easy a passing as possible in their own home versus dumping them on the the first memory care doorstep that has an opening. But it still feels shitty. I also know that we'll work through this. Clearly more detachment is required on my part (I marveled this afternoon at my sister's calm as Mom rattled the locked front door, screaming to get out). I'll also be asking my sense of humor to cowgirl up and help me combat this new threat to loving our dementia Mom.
But I gotta tell 'ya, pard'ner, right now? It just feels fifty shades of shitty.