I was preparing for it, sort of, as much as one can prepare for such a thing. Which is to say, I knew it would happen and thought that constantly reminding myself of that fact would somehow make it easier than it coming out of the blue.
My heart broke first when Dad told me she didn’t recognize him. Him. Of all people. That actually hurt worse. I talk to my mom several times a week on the phone. I go back to visit a few times a year… but Dad? How could she not know him? Bless his heart, he’s been by her side every single day since the news came.
The news that all physical tests were normal. Brain scan looks good. Nutrient levels are good. Blood pressure, blood sugar, blood count, good good good. What wasn’t good on that day two and a half years ago? Well, she couldn’t tell time on a clock. She couldn’t find 4th of July on a calendar. She couldn’t remember how many nieces and nephews she had. Dementia is not what you want to hear, ever. Certainly not at 62. Dementia is for really old people, isn’t it…?
As much as I hated that news that day, it’s been down right insulting how quickly it has progressed. Two and a half years ago she was driving to work, getting around town, cooking meals. Now she gets up in the middle of the night not knowing where she is, while in the house she’s called home for four decades. She confuses the TV remote for the phone. She isn’t always sure who she sees when looking at her husband of over 40 years – the man who now cooks all her meals, helps her get dressed and reminds her to brush her teeth.
And then the day came when she didn’t know me.
There is no right or wrong way to feel about it – and it seems in the tick of the second hand I can feel it all. Heartbreak as I watch her lose functions, anger at life for taking her rational mind, grief for the loss of the mother I thought I’d have in my adult years, guilt for not being around more, helplessness knowing I can’t fix it. But also… but also… humor, as I see the innocence in the things she says and does, grace as my heart makes room for a reality I never wanted, compassion, gratitude, appreciation for all the family and friends who love and help mom, and unwaveringly underneath it all, the deepest kind of love, because love is where all of the other emotions come from.
At the end of the day, she is still my mom, whether she knows my name or not, even if she forgets she has a daughter at all. We carry a bond beyond name and title, beyond the intellect’s ability to comprehend, beyond memories and expectations. Our connection is not a concept or an idea, so it cannot be lost as her mind loses the ability to hold thoughts.
And then the day came when my mother didn’t know my name. But also, through my smile and tears, the day came, when I remembered who we both really are.
If you care for or have a loved one with dementia, I want to invite you to a free, online workshop that I am hosting with the Dementia & Alzheimer's Wellness Network founder Judy Cornish. For more details and to register, please click this link.