I wrote the poem “Dear Tears” about 15 years ago, while my grandma was suffering with vascular dementia. She had the same type of dementia that my mom has. My mom’s mom, whom we called “Nana”, had dementia for about seven years, until she passed away in 2000. My husband and I got married just a few months after she passed. By the end of her illness, she did not recognize most of her family. Occasionally, she seemed to have fleeting glimpses of recognition. Sometimes she seemed to remember my mom, and bits and pieces from her old life.
I have vivid memories of visiting Nana at the Care Center, which was situated not far from my parents home. At the beginning of her stay, she would beg and beg me to take her home in my “red car”. It was heart wrenching to leave her there and witness her sad, forlorn, and confused eyes, with her never understanding why we were keeping her there. I would visit often with my mom, taking Nana for walks in her wheel chair around the property.
Many times Nana mistakenly believed that my mom was married to her first boyfriend, John, whom she had dated before my dad. She hadn’t seen or talked to John in over 30 years, but my grandma would often ask how he and his family were doing, and what he was up to. Mom and I would sometimes joke about that, and I would tease her for once throwing an engagement ring John had given her into the snow, when they had gotten into a fight one night. Nana also sometimes believed that her parents were still alive, and she wondered why they never visited her. It was painful explaining to her over and over again that they were in fact, dead and gone and now in heaven.
We would often go and visit the song birds down the hall from Nana’s room, where they nested and flitted about in their wall sized enclosure. Some days Nana didn’t mind going to sit with them and listen to the tiny bird’s sweet tweeting and chirping. As time went on though, she frequently rebelled at having to see those birds. On some level, I imagine that she understood that those tiny little things of beauty were stuck and trapped inside, just like she was.
Mom and I were at Nana’s bedside when she passed peacefully to her new life with God. I remember praying the Rosary, and my mom later told me that she had felt “a strong wind” blow across the room just after Nana died, even though there were no windows in the room, and the one and only door in the room was tightly closed. We both firmly believed that her angels took her, and that the gush of wind could’ve very well been them leading her on to her next life.
I remember having emotional conversations with my mom, where she would plead with me saying things like, “Mary, if I ever end up this way, you can not put me in a nursing home. I’m serious Mary, your father and I have enough money to get full time nursing care and that is what I would want. Promise me that.” I am sure that I promised her. I probably said something like, “OK, OK, OK mom, geez…do we really need to be talking about this right now?” Little did I know then, that less than 10 years later, I would be needing to do the very thing that she made me promise her I would not do. No wonder I had severe anxiety attacks while searching for a suitable care center for her to move into. I have since gotten help for that, thank God.
In many ways, caring for my mom feels so similar to how it felt caring for Nana. They both have the same witty humor, inquisitive natures, and stick to it stubbornness. My children call my mom Nana, just like I called her mom Nana. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, because I have such clear memories of being with Nana, and I get a sort of shock or “twilight zone” type of feeling when it sinks in that yep, it’s deja vu. I’m here again with dementia. Only it’s not Nana. It’s my mom. I am thankful for the kids in those moments. They are perfect for sucking me back into the now, and for helping me to appreciate the joy and innocence again, which they exude so well.
my soul cries.
Tears and sadness
for the one,
who can not shed.
Tears for the one,
who knows not
what’s in her head.
Tears for the one,
who’s so alone,
in a world so
mangled and twisted.
Crying out my pain
for the precious and the dear,
who one day awake,
and know not
the face in the mirror.
knowing that in the end,
is what’s best.
This is a beautiful song written about the singer’s grandma, who had dementia. It is written and sung by the Dixie Chicks. (I don’t know the people in the photos)
This beautiful song, written and sung by Jon Foreman (lead singer of Swicthfoot) reminds me of my long journey of caring for my mom, and of all the years I spent trying to help her get better. It also helps me remember to unite my sufferings with Christ, who holds us close in our pain and deep fears.