She never completed school. She made it to the tenth grade but didn't complete the year. There was work to be done at home for the family and so she gave up her studies to help out there. She took a job at a local Five & Dime and soon had the busiest candy counter in town, not for the fudge she cut into little blocks and sold, but for her winning smile and her sense of humor. She made everyone who came to her counter feel good about themselves.
She married at the age of twenty-one and the next year, gave birth to her first child. Two more children followed in quick succession and then, she was left stranded by the husband she trusted and depended on to provide for her and the little ones. He left her in a coal company house that was in demand by working miners and within two weeks, she was given an eviction notice. She lived through the shame of having to go back to her parents and then later, the pain of having her three young children stolen from her and taken away to another state before a judge could make a custody ruling during a bitter divorce.
She survived a remarriage and giving birth to two more children. She cried through holidays when she thought no one could hear and she hugged us a little bit tighter sometimes when it was one of the other children's birthdays. She survived losing her parents and siblings and her spouse to death and still, somehow, she managed to find humor in small things. She laughed and she made others around her laugh.
Now, at almost 81 years old, she suffers from dementia and assorted health problems that keep her sleeping most of the time and have robbed her of the ability to enjoy life. But still, there are times when something makes her think and she comes alive. The sparkle reappears in her eyes and she grins or smiles when she knows she has made someone else laugh. Those times make up for all the times that she is lost in her own world.
I have found certain things that trigger my mother's mind. Touching her while I talk to her seems to calm her and helps her to focus. Keeping a steady tone of voice helps while speaking sharply to her quickly turns her facial expression to one of apprehension or fear. The biggest trigger however, is laughter.
During a recent visit from a friend, my mother came alive. She felt very comfortable with the visitors and she quickly caught onto all of us sitting around the table laughing. She tried hard to think up jokes to tell them and she would come into the room and quickly let them know what was on her mind. If they laughed, she would say, "Well, I just thought of that and wanted to come and tell you."
She is childlike in many ways, she just loves to be silly and she hasn't thought about any real problems for quite a while. She has no concept of money or bills, she no longer scans the obituaries looking for names she recognizes and she has no desire to look past today. There are times when she is prissy and times when she is sure that her stuffed dog is doing tricks or that someone is talking to her that we don't see.....When I think about it, maybe she is in the best place a person could ever be. I waste moments of my life worrying about being late with a utility payment, who is divorcing and who is ill and I am forever trying to make sure that the future is taken care of.........while I'm too busy to enjoy today.
Today, I lied to my mother, not a serious lie, but a lie. I do it a lot in fact, because they are lies that comfort her or let her be content. Instead of saying, "I'm leaving for five hours and my brother will look in on you," I simply say, "I'm going outside to find something I dropped." She has no concept of time but she can handle the idea of me being gone for minutes while the thought of me being gone for longer makes her feel frightened and nervous.
While my mother still recognizes me, her world has gradually ebbed away from today and now revolves more around yesterday. She doesn't know when she ate last or old how the grandchildren are but if you ask her about the principal of the Junior High she attended, she can describe him in great detail. She sometimes asks questions I have no way of answering but I have learned that rather than saying, "I don't know," I can answer with "I think he moved to California, or I heard she became a teacher." She will nod in satisfaction and it's over. But I do have to be careful.
Dementia is a strange mental illness. She is confused and for the most part, realizes that she is confused. She will ask the same questions over and over again but there are times when she catches her mistakes and occasionally, even mine. Those are the times when just for a brief moment, I am once again the child and she is once again my parent. Most of the time however, those roles have become reversed.
I don't understand the people who put parents in nursing homes and then never go to see them. I know that not all parents were good parents but in my case, I wouldn't leave my kids at a day care and not go back and I can't do that with my mother either.
So, I will continue to find ways to make her laugh! I will try to trigger those moments when her eyes sparkle and her feet tap to music. I will do whatever it takes to make sure she always feels loved and cared for.
Okay, I've said it...........
"Beyond The Sunset" by Daniel O'Donnell
Copyright belonging to Daniel O'Donnell