A New Chapter… Life After Death & Dementia

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I don’t really know what to say at this point. The thing is, I still have a lot to say. I want to tell our story. I have to. I need to keep going because, well, what else am I going to do? Sit back quietly and wait for this thing to attack my brain? Um, no. So I’ll just ramble and see what comes out. My mother has been gone more than five month now. She died. From Frontotemporal Degeneration (Pick’s disease). He death certificate says the cause of death was Alzheimer’s Disease, but that’s wrong. I don’t know why I haven’t tried to get that changed. Actually, I do know: I’m too tired right now. I’m also angry. Angry at the doctors who we trusted (because that’s what you’re supposed to do)… those “experts” who were supposed to help my mom, treat her with compassion… but more often than not, they harmed her with their debilitating psychotropic drugs. She was a number. Another patient. And they didn’t really care because they didn’t have to — especially those quacks at the geriatric pysch wards (like the doctor who wanted to treat my mother w/ shock therapy because he thought she was bipolar… at 72). For the most part, and with the exception of a small few, their job is stabilize and discharge — in 30 days or less (if possible).

I’m also relieved. Thankful FTD is no longer gnawing away at her brain; torturing her. By the end, my mom’s once bright smile looked more like she was grimacing in pain — her teeth were yellowed and crooked… she was grinding her teeth. It was heartbreaking, yet impossible to get her to unclench her jaw.

And somedays I’m anxious. What am I going to do now? I HAVE TO TELL HER STORY TO EVERYONE AND ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN — MARIA SHRIVER, JULIANNE MOORE, SETH ROGEN — LISTEN TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HER LIFE MATTERS AND I WANT THE WORLD TO PAY ATTENTION!!!!!!!!!! HER SUFFERING WAS NOT FOR NOTHING! LISTEN TO ME!

Hmmm. Maybe that’s anger, coupled with desperation.

I’m not really sure how the stages of grief work when it comes to dementia. And frankly, I don’t care to know. I’ve lost my mother twice: once when she was alive. I grieved then. Then again in August. The only difference is now I can’t hold her hand. I’m not sure if this is grief, per se…. I don’t miss her, but I miss visiting her. I miss visiting the other residents. And I miss those little things about her that I lost a long time ago. Like her smile. Even when she was sick, she would smile and call me, “Mijita!”

She had forgotten my name.

I’m not a soul searcher by nature. I know people who feel deeply and to me, it’s an unnecessary indulgence. Yes, I overthink things, but to find deep, profound meaning in her death (or her life), well, what does that even mean, really? Seriously?! I haven’t written a word since my last post announcing her passing. I don’t talk about her very much. And I’ve cried maybe a handful of times since she left me.

More than anything else, I’m tired. Really tired. A little less so these days since I’ve forced myself to read a little more instead of drowning any sadness in episodes of Modern Family or Mob Wives. Baby steps. Project Runway All Stars is on. 

Here’s the problem, truly, when someone is lost to a disease like FTD or any other type of dementia… the burden falls on you, the caregiver; and as that person tumbles down the rabbit hole of dementia, they become utterly and completely helpless. Now it’s up to you to pull up your big girl (or boy) underpants and make some really hard choices. Sometimes you have to choose between “mostly shitty” and “shitty.” And when they finally pass away, you can’t help but think about what you could have done differently (after all, don’t you deserve a happy ending, too?). I sometimes drown in the wouldas, the couldas and the shouldas. And please don’t say, “think about what she was like before she became sick.” You can’t imagine how difficult a task that is to accomplish. She had been sick for a very, very long time… long enough where I have forgotten those good times. But I am trying. I’ve been trying to commune with those old memories in recent weeks. It may sound nuts, but intense physical activity (i.e. spinning) whereby your brain feels like its  on the verge of imploding usually does the trick. Brief moments flash by… poofs of color… and then they’re gone. Though sometimes all it takes is a particular sunrise or a scent. Then, something is triggered.

And it’s a beautiful thing when it happens.

They Keep Saying She’s Dying … Or Waiting Around for Death

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The sky started rumbling. A storm was coming in from the north. There was wind, thunder and lightening. I hoped it would rain. But it never rains anymore. Then I thought about my mom. I wondered if God was coming for her and this was his grand entrance. As I stood over my kitchen sink washing baby bottles, I decided to go sit with her — just in case. It was 7:45 p.m.

My mom was sound asleep. She hadn’t eaten dinner. She hasn’t eaten in days, really. Earlier that day, I gave her a few drops of water, which was a mistake. She started choking. I got up from my chair, ran out and grabbed a nurse. They used a swab to try and absorb the remaining water. It was upsetting to watch, but, then, that’s what happens when you’re dying, I suppose. You lose your ability to swallow. I still can’t believe this is happening. Everyone says it is. I keep asking the nurses if they think she’s dying … just waiting for the one nurse to say, “Nope. She’s definitely going to bounce back from this, too.”

Now, here I was, back at her bedside.  I needed to talk to my mom … really talk to her. Something I have had a hard time doing … she has been mostly unresponsive for a very long time. How do you talk to a body? A body that rarely emotes, except to scream out; a body that takes and is incapable of giving because of a wretched disease. Eventually, you just stop. The silence is more comfortable. It’s safer. The words felt artificial after a while.

I don’t know why I’m having such a tough time accepting that this is (probably) the end of our story. I think I’ve been very realistic about our entire journey. Maybe too realistic, in fact. I’ve had moments where I’d step back and wonder, “am I too detached from what’s happening to my mother?” Have I shut off certain emotions in the name of self-preservation? I suppose, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The one thing I can accept is that we’re all going to die. That’s how every story ends. And yet, as a species, we have an incredible knack for wasting every precious second on petty bullshit … bullshit that no one will care about in 5, 10, 20, 100 years.

Or even right this second.

And who wants their headstone to read: Here lies YOU. You wasted your life being angry, being sad, being resentful, being vindictive, being ridiculous, and now you are dead. The end. 

So here I am waiting. And learning. And remembering. I am (probably) watching death hover over my mother. In some ways, it’s a blessing. A blessing that soon she’ll (probably) be at peace. And a blessing for me … it serves as a reminder that we have this one life, and anything can happen. Death is democratic. So is dementia. It doesn’t care if you’re white or black, a Democrat or a Republican. It doesn’t care if you’re Jewish or Muslim or Christian. It just doesn’t care. That’s not its job.

And now I need two Advil.

 

Ramblings of a Demented Daughter… Floating Thoughts

I don’t know if I’m a good daughter…. My two cousins and aunt (mom’s sister and her two nephews)  blasted me a few months ago because of the name of the blog… My DEMENTED Mom. The word demented when translated into Spanish is apparently a not very kind word. I can’t say much about that. I didn’t know it was a wretched word in Spanish.

Alas, my mother tongue is English, the blog is in English and according to Merriam-Webster, DEMENTED has two meanings:

1. mad, insane
2. suffering from or exhibiting cognitive dementia

My mother fits both definitions quite nicely. The assault on my use of the word was so incredibly hurtful. They attacked me, the blog and from my point of view, my role as her daughter. I felt like such a horrible person, a rancid daughter, clumsy, baroquely grotesque, wretched and positively cheap……………..I knew it was a strong word……. but the name of my blog was never meant to disparage my mom or her memory………. she is demented. She is sometimes mad. She does suffer from cognitive dementia.

I love my mom.

I miss my mom.

This morning I woke up wishing that I had started wearing a purse when I was younger—when she told me too. Silly, random pre-dawn, pre-caffeinated thought. She used to tell me that I should wear a purse. That a girl my age should wear purse. I hated purses then (love ’em now), but I wish I just did what she wanted me to do. It would have made her happy.

I no longer have any relationship with these individuals—there’s no point. That and I’m stubborn but mostly I don’t think there is a reason to resume relations with people who just don’t get it. Who never will. I don’t know if I’m sad about that…… maybe more disappointed…………. but for me, family goes beyond blood lines. Natalie.

Cheryl.

Lindsay.

Petra.

And of course, my Jon.

New topic.

I talked to Sandra Gonzalez at the Alzheimer’s Associate Desert Southwest Chapter. My mom hates baths. Sandra was sharing some tips for making bath time a little easier…. Play soothing music. Prepare her bath before she gets near the bathroom (apparently the noise may be amplified for those suffering from dementia). My mom screams. She yells, PORQUE ME PONES? PORQUE ME PONES?

That’s dementia for, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME? YOU KNOW I HATE WATER. PUT MY CLOTHES BACK ON. I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU PUT ME IN THE WATER I’M GOING TO SCREAM. YOU’RE REALLY PISSING ME OFF.

We also talked about communication…………. communicating with my mom, understanding her and talking to her in her own language. My mom has less than a handful of phrases that she uses and repeats over and over….. I use the same phrases to talk to her.

Oddly, she understands me. No idea what she thinks I’m saying, but she responds….. in her own demented language. I am in her world. Every time I visit my mom, I step into her world, I engage her……….. I “allow” her to shop lift………. I listen to her. I paint her nails hot pink. I clip her finger and toe nails. I dress her sometimes—something I actually like to do……. granted she ended up with a pair of Converse One Stars, but she likes them and I own the same pair (I like it when we match…………… it’s my thing).

 

Tomorrow, March 25, is my mom’s birthday. She’ll be 73.

 

>>Flickr pic from Mariel B

Mater, Mommy, Ma, Ama, Madre, Mueter, Em, Mami, Ummi, Mamma… My Mom