Who Am I Now That She’s Gone?

pexels-photo-736843.jpeg

There are a lot of similarities between a small child and someone living with dementia. Specifically, frontotemporal degeneration. I remember so many of my mom’s odd quirks. Once, she poured her Coke into her glass of red wine. She drank it, much to my dismay. My toddler did something similar recently. She poured water into a bowl of hard boiled eggs then she mixed it around and ate it. I immediately thought of my mom. I can’t remember if I laughed or felt sad. Her disease caused her to mentally and emotionally regress… a real life Benjamin Button. I always thought having a young child would be, in some ways, easier than having a mother with dementia. In some ways it is: there’s so much more joy, more laughter, fewer tears. My toddler is also considerably lighter than my mother, and when she is upset or angry, I can actually pick her up and hold her… or relocate her. Something I wasn’t exactly able to do with mom (remember those times with her priest?). Lately though, I have been missing my mom; missing something about her… I can’t quite put my finger on the what. Maybe just her presence. Her scent…. I don’t know. I lost my mom, really, when I was in my 20s… I became the parent and she became the child. Before that, I was living in another city thousands of miles from home. I feel guilty about that. Maybe if I had stayed in Arizona, maybe I would have had more of those moments… precious moments that would have stuck with me, helped shape me into someone better that who I became. Instead, my memories are blurry… sometimes I’ll hear something or get a whiff of something and it’ll transport me to a particular time or place… but they’re few and far between. And sometimes I’ll dream about her. Those are the sweetest nights. I wish she came to me more often.

And then there are times when I can’t feel her at all. The loneliness is palpable.

I thought I would be relieved when my mom died. I was in most ways. I was glad she was no longer suffering in a broken down body. I was glad to put that chapter behind me and focus on my baby. I thought the hurt would fade away, too. Time does some neat tricks when it wants to, and frankly, I lost my mom a long time ago. But what I’m learning is that this kind of loss sticks with you. I know it has changed me. And I don’t know if it’s for the better. The final years were incredibly brutal and how one recovers from such a trauma is beyond me. To wallow in it would be selfish and indulgent, though there are days where I wish I could stew in it. So I try to keep going. I hate when things become stagnant. When that happens I desperately seek change. Is this blog, is the work that I do to share our story stagnant? I mean what else is there to say? Is it — this — the anchor holding me down or the means to truly let go. I have no idea what any of it means or if it means anything at all. I guess the truth is I don’t know who I am anymore now that she is gone.

That’s a little lonely, too.

 

A New Chapter… Life After Death & Dementia

pexels-photo-568027.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-167755.jpeg

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.

 

Hey God, She’s Dying. Where Are You?

I’m still coming to terms with the idea that my mom is dying. It hardly seems possible. I mean, I knew, eventually, she would die. But death felt faraway. It still feels far away. If she is dying, it’ll take time. My mom was in OK shape, physically, before her sudden decline; she was decently hydrated, and like I said, the woman has a knack from coming back from the brink. She’s done it before. Why couldn’t she do it again? Never mind the fact that she hasn’t really eaten in six days … just a few bites of sorbet and sips of water through a plastic pipette.

It doesn’t feel like she’s dying. I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to sit by her bedside until she finally passes away. Maybe I should, but what is the point? Nothing is happening. She’s lying there, corpse-like. Sometimes her eyes will open, and then she’ll fall asleep again — eyes still open. I can tell she’s sleeping because she starts snoring. I don’t know what to do with myself, so I squeeze out a large dollop of citrus-ginger scented hand lotion and quietly massage her arms and hands. I say a few prayers, tell her it’s OK to leave this world. And then I shake my fist at God.

Really, you’re going to drag this out to the bitter end, huh? 

It has been ten years — give or take — since I noticed something was wrong with my mother. That’s more than 3,000 days. And here we are. Waiting. Waiting on Him. He must be Latin, just like us… we’re always late.

My mother’s family is very religious. Everyone is praying for her. And if they’re not praying for her, they’re thinking of her. There are a lot of thoughts and prayers are floating around … “You’re in my thoughts,” “Recite this prayer,” “Tell her we love her.” I’ve also been told that God will take her when he’s ready. I realize he’s very busy these days, what with mankind slaughtering one another (in His name), but surely he can move her up the list… I see it sort of like a transplant list. He’s transplanting her from Earth to Heaven. But this dilly-daddling is total bullshit. I find it difficult to believe in a loving, kind God when a) he takes his time escorting her through the pearly gates of heaven and b) this is how he saw fit to treat her these last ten years. With a terribly grotesque disease that has rotted out her brain. My mother who devoted herself to her church and to God. Frankly, I’m surprised the woman never became a nun. A life of prayer would have suited her, I think.

So here we are waiting. Waiting for her to bounce back and resume a life of nothing or waiting for her to die. Peacefully, I hope. And in a timely fashion.