rainbow-bit I want to understand my sister. I have this deeply ingrained belief that understanding leads to being able to help. BUT!

Without a medical miracle this wish will never come true. Dementia is cruel that way. Understanding depends on things having a reason, but dementia reduces everything to fragments, disconnected from any reason, free-floating in a destroyed brain.

“I don’t know why all these bats are flying around the house making such a racket!” she says.

The cats have been running up and down the hall as cats do, so I say, “Yes, the cats are quite wild just now.”

“NO!” she replies indignantly. “You’re not listening. I didn’t say cats — I said bats! Those black things that fly.”

I’ve learned to say, “O. I’m sorry I misunderstood.” That much is true at least.

About three this morning she came into my room to wake me. I was already awake, of course — the cats tell me immediately when she is up and roaming. She was amused and wanted to tell me about the man and the two little boys who had just come into her room. One of the boys was looking for a dog, but the father told him that the dog wasn’t there, and they left. She thought this was quite funny and asked, “What would I be doing with a dog? Shall I fix you your breakfast?”

(She can find the kitchen now, but as for fixing breakfast, no. She spent twenty minutes the other day trying to bring me a glass of water that she had offered to get for me. I usually say, “No, thank you.” This time I said, “Yes, please” just to see what would happen. The kitchen was ten feet from where I was sitting. She often can’t get that far before forgetting why she has gone there. It took 20 minutes of restarts before the glass of water wound up on the table beside me.)

So, when she offered to make breakfast at 3 AM, I replied, “No, thank you. How about I fix you a snack — peanut butter and banana on toast?”

“O, that would be all right,” she responded glumly. She had visions of I-don’t-know-what — and never will know. She went back to bed and was sleep before I could get the toaster going, so I left the snack on the tray beside her bed. She’ll eat it when she wakes up again in the night. She won’t know or need to know where it came from, and she won’t remember it in the morning. She might ask me why a plate is in her bed, but probably not. It may be inside the pillow case with the pillow. But the food will be gone. It is a bit like making offerings to a capricious god — they are almost always taken, but one is never sure by whom or what.

Our days and our nights have little consistency. Her viewpoint is chaotic, without order, most things forgotten very rapidly and things remembered that never happened. But it’s quite remarkable how much chaos can be created in a house by one elderly, exceedingly slow-moving woman, unsteady on her feet, who cannot remember where she was going or why or what she picked up along the way nor where she put it down.

I yearn for order, for reason, for understanding, for a way to make things better — for her and for me. Even for the cats who are bewildered by her and wary of her slow fumbling traverses of the house. They watch her with perplexed and concerned eyes. So do I. I want to understand her, but it isn’t going to happen. It’s like living with a natural force — a storm, a tidal wave, a fire. Things don’t have to have any reason why — at least not a reason within the scale of human comprehension.

For me this is an intensive spiritual exercise. Perhaps someday I’ll be grateful for having had it. I try to be grateful now.


7 thoughts on “Dementia

  1. *hugs gently*
    Dementia is such a difficult thing to contend with; it’s like trying to understand and reason with a tornado. I watched my grandmother and uncle succumb to it, and for we who thrive with order and reason, it’s a confusing surprise around every corner.
    My heart goes out to both of you. <3


  2. Cruel indeed is dementia. I have no personal experience with such, and can only let you know that both you, and your sister are often in my thoughts and healing prayers. Hugs, Jessica, with love.

  3. I think you understand it, Jesa. There’s no understanding it, is what I’m getting from your description of it. One bumps up against things when it reaches the point of ‘I understand clearly that it’s not to be understood’. Understanding doesn’t work with this one. I recorded a song tonight that had this lyric in it: “What are the chances of understanding a thing that can’t be understood?” I didn’t know I was singing it for you.

  4. You understand you love your sister and she needs you due to a condition neither of you can control. That love is all that really matters. That and YOU doing whatever you can for moments of peace and rest for you. Breakfast with Jerry had to be a bit of heaven…..even w/o dementia! You bring love and inspiration to all of us Jessica. Thank you!! Sharon

  5. Oh Jessica, I don’t know how or why you are doing this all yourself is this your choice? Do you have support to help you? I pray that you do. You are in my heart and in my prayers.

  6. Dear Jessica,
    I am sorry for the loss and grief and stress you may be feeling in the midst of all of this. I send wishes for you to feel comfort and peace as you continue on. I know that there is no reasoning with dementia. An expert on such things, he is a director of spiritual care at a hospital and has decades of experience – told me that it is best to refrain from disagreeing with the person with dementia. He said it is best to play along to a degree that is comfortable for you. This is because the reality she is experiencing is real to her and it will rarely bend to reason. I had a person dear to me who spent the last 15 years of her life lost in dementia. I felt the ongoing grief of her being lost. Lost to me and to her stronger clearer self. I knew there was a wounding from her childhood that was somehow effecting that and coloring it. Whenever I had the chance, whenever there was an open moment in her listening, I would remind her of her own healing mantras that she had used for years. There was glimmer, and it faded. But I felt like I had made contact. Also, she had this repetitive fear surfacing related to her mother. I assured her that her mother is at peace with her and forgives her. She said, she is? Yes, I told her, with the warmth of motherhood and friendship in my voice. I do hope you have the support you require to walk this path with your sister.
    with much love and faerie kisses,

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