We had dinner the other night with mom in the Care Center Deli. The kids and I love their cheeseburgers and shakes. Mom talked of her very strange dreams that she has had lately (over and over again). One of them was not actually a dream, so I had that familiar feeling of not knowing how to accurately respond when she suddenly exclaimed, with that incredulous look in her eyes,
“Another dream was REALLY crazy! Someone was there telling me that you are in charge of me! Is that true? It can’t be, can it?!”
I got that deer in the headlights feeling again, like I need to respond ultra quick with the right action or words to escape danger or unnecessary drama. A part of me wanted to say, “No, mom that was no dream. It was probably the nurse the other day, when you snuck in another resident’s room to call 911!” I also wanted to laugh, because she often surprises me with truths you could never predict her remembering.
So, I responded with, “Umm…well, yeah, in a way, I am. (I am her legal guardian) I make some of your medical decisions and things like that.” To which she angrily responded with, “What?! Well, don’t DO that anymore! I can do that myself!”
Often, when communicating with a loved one who has dementia, you can find yourself feeling trapped in a conversation. Your faced with the dilemma of, Do I tell the truth, a portion of the truth, or just make it up altogether? You are constantly assessing the mood of the situation, and predicting what your loved one’s reaction may or may not be in any given moment. I am getting more skilled at knowing when to elaborate or just changing the subject entirely, without creating too much upheaval. Well, on most days anyway, because on certain days those moods of hers can turn on a dime.
The other day, we came in and she was waiting in her wheelchair at her door looking out anxiously. As soon as she caught a glimpse of us coming down the hall, she burst into emphatic tears, and expressed in between hot sobs over and over,
“Oh….I am so glad to see you…you just have no idea….how happy I am to see you…..”
It is very hard to not get choked up at times when I see her so vulnerable. I had 4 young kids (my 3 plus a friend) with me, so I tried to pull it together and tried not to tear to much in front of them. We immediately cheered her up, and she was able to carry on a pleasant conversation with me. The kids, however, usually get restless and like to get a little to wild in the hallways, which the nurses and aides are always very patient about!
When I witness that raw emotion and vulnerability I am always reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou,
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Because, in the end, mom won’t realistically remember any of these conversations that we now have with her. Rather, it is the love that she will feel, and the care that was continued to be given that will live on in her heart, and in ours.