Karin and I got to know each other in our New York City support group. She’s incredibly funny, super smart, and a just beautiful woman with a dog who didn’t jump on me once at the Alzheimer’s walk last year. Karin is navigating the interesting world of dating. Dating with a demented parent is not easy. The inevitable “parent” question is bound to come up and you can either lie: “mother is on the junior league and volunteers her time to the poor and orphaned children.” Or you can go with the truth: “my mom shits herself and spits on the floor at Target. What did you say your mom does again? Junior league and orphans, eh? That’s terrific. Check please.”
I wanted to share Karin’s story because she is doing the dating thing in a very open, honest and brave way. Navigating a world that is already filled with challenging situations, awkwardness, and plenty of weirdos is hard, often times sucky, and just plain exhausting… of course, there are a few good ones out there… if you meet them, hold on to ’em… but Karin is dating and she’s doing it with NYC balls, sass, and always grace. The woman is tough and amazing. I give her credit. Airing your dirty, or rather, demented laundry isn’t easy and can quickly end any first date… but can you blame anyone for walking away? I often wonder, if I get through this and meet someone going through this very same situation, would I want to take another walk though hell even if he is holding my hand?
I am currently single, looking to find the man who will be my mate, lover and best friend, all rolled into the perfect package. The whole process of “dating” requires that you open yourself up to a virtual stranger, and let them into your world to see if you want them to continue to be there, and if they want to continue to be there. Inevitably—what feels like sooner rather than later—the question of your parents comes up. I used to consider just outright lying, “Yes, my parents have been happily married for 40-years,” but as a smart fellow support group member (Susan) told me, if they can’t accept my mother (and family situation) for what it is at the beginning, it’s doomed to fail.
Since receiving that bit of advice, I now respond with the honest truth. I have no relationship at all with my father (parents divorced when I was young and haven’t seen him for the past 15 years or so), and my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She has no idea who I am, what my name is, or that I am her daughter. She requires full time care, drinks her meals because she has “forgotten” how to swallow, and wears diapers.
Before becoming sick, my mother was the strongest woman in the world. She worked a full time job, then came home to support and raise my brother and I—on her own, with no real support to speak of. The mother who raised me is my hero, and everything my brother and I are today is because of her. On the other hand, the person who resides in her body today is a stranger, someone I choose not to see because I want to remember who she was, and not be left of memories of this shell of my mother.
Sometimes, while out on dates my mother’s aide or day care program will call and those are calls that I have to take as they come, never knowing what the latest crisis may be. I have learned to take and deal with those calls in front of dates—as embarrassing as it is for me. I can sometimes look at someone after I’ve hung up the phone, and just know that its game over, won’t be seeing him again. Other times I am shocked that my date wants to know more about the situation and is supportive of me and my mother.
Since my mother’s diagnosis, I have not yet been in a relationship where I have had to talk about the fact that this may be a genetic disease. That conversation frightens me for so many reasons. Having that conversation means that I will have to address the reality that I may one day be like my mother (this was her fear as well, and here she is today, just like her own demented mother). It also means I will have to tell a potential mate, that if they choose to spend the rest of their life with me, in thirty years, give or take, I may be just like my mother. Worse yet, I may pass on these faulty genes to our children.
Like any other 31-year-old single New York City woman, I’ve come to learn that dating has its ups and downs. I’ve also learned that we all have our faults. But I do believe that I will one day soon find my “better half.” As excited as I am to find him, it upsets me greatly that the woman who is responsible for making me who I am today will not be able to share in the joys of my future.