Dementia

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.

rainbow-bit