Monday, June 20, 2011

I Want to Talk To Mama!

I stared at the sunset...talking with my mother....

With dementia patients, there comes a time when they will want to talk to a mom, dad...or any loved one from long ago.  Of course, this is not an option.  Usually, their immediate loved ones died years ago.  They just can't remember. Mother is 90 years old.  She has actually outlived everyone in her immediate family. But that longing to talk to her go home.... grows deeper with each passing year.

It can be difficult to handle. Do you ignore it?  Or do you tell the truth? Five years ago, at the beginning of this journey, I started out by naively telling her the truth....just KNOWING my mother would eventually understand.  Every time, we'd argue endlessly about the facts (remember the 21 questions?). 

One day, exasperated, I met with my pastor.  “Carol she’s not going to remember anything.  You can't spend every day trying to give back what she's lost.  Instead of looking for what's lost, why don't you see what you can find?"  On that day, I went away teary eyed saying, “Oh yes she will remember!  I will MAKE her remember!"

But you know what?  Since then, I’ve had to let go of my expectations... because I have seen this thing called "dementia" rise up like a tornado.  It leaves a path of scattered memories that are impossible to put back together.  All the memories, like debris, are still there.  But their order has turned to chaos.

In the years Mother has been living with me, she has repeatedly asked the same question countless times.  This is how our conversations used to go: 

"Can you call my Mama?"  -  "She died."
"I can’t believe it!"  - "It’s true." (starts crying.)
"When did she die?"  -  "1968." (continues to cry.)
"How did she die?"  - "A heart attack." - (continues to cry.)
"Why wasn’t I there?" - "You were."  (bent over crying.)
"Why didn’t I go to the funeral?" - "You did." (blowing nose.)
"It can’t be true!"  "I don’t remember what you’re talking about." 

"It’s true, Mother. I was there." (Now, I'm crying too.)

I would take her to the cemetery to see the graves.  I even made pictures to prove to her that her Mama had indeed died.  I would show her the pictures on my computer.  But by the time she would see the pictures on my computer, she wouldn’t say anything.  It was like her brain could not compute...or she had already forgotten.      

On one occasion, I called my grandmother’s old phone number and someone actually answered.  Without hesitating, my Mother started asking question after question.  I could only imagine what this total stranger on the other end of the phone was thinking.  I should have picked up the other phone line just to listen in.  But maybe part of me was hoping the voice on the other end WAS my grandmother.  I miss talking to her too. 

A few months ago, Mother was once more asking the on-going question,  "Can you call my Mama?"...

This time I thought, “Sure, why not!”  Reality sure hadn't been working.  So I decided to get creative.  I would call myself.  I would actually become HER mother on the phone!  I clearly remember my Grandmother and all the stories Mother used to tell about her childhood days.  Why not reminiscence about the days gone by?  I gave her my home phone while I called my cellphone.  I walked out onto my porch, sat on a bench staring into the sunset, and talked to my Mother.

The conversation went something like this:

"Hello, Is this Mama?"
"Is this Dorothy?"
"Yes this is Dorothy!  I can’t believe I’m finally talking to you. I have missed you so much. Where are you?"
"I’m in Griffin!"
"I didn’t know you were in Griffin!"
"Yes, I still live in my old house.  In fact I’m sitting in the swing on the front porch right now eating ice cream."
"I wish I was on the porch with you!"
"Next time you come to Griffin, come by and see me.  Are you still living with Carol?"
"Tell Carol I said, hello."  (tears in my eyes..)
"Hold on, let me tell Carol you said, 'Hello.'"  (She laid the phone down and hollowed loudly, Carol!
I laid my phone down and answered, “Yes!”)
"Mama says 'Hello'."
"Tell her I said, 'Hello'."  
(I run back to the garage and pick up the phone.)
 "Mama, Carol said, 'Hello.'".
 "I miss you and Carol. Do you remember that delicious homemade peach ice cream we would make on summer nights?"
"Yes.  I loved it." 
 "I loved it too, but I’ve got to go because I’m cooking dinner....all your favorite foods.....roast beef and mashed potatoes, string beans, and homemade biscuits."
"That sounds good. Maybe we can come this weekend.  I’ll ask Carol if we can come home. I love you."
"I love you too."

Goodbye......... (Now I'm the one grieving.)

Of course, the next day she forgot the conversation.  But for that one moment, my mother was happy. She does remember that I have a connection to her Mama. When she’s feeling a little anxious she will say, “I need to talk to Mama.”  I call myself and we'll talk for a while.  She's even taken to calling me "Mama". 

I have seen so many dementia patients in nursing homes grieving over the loss of their loved ones.  Every dose of "reality" brings them nothing but more grief and sorrow.  Who knows what a simple phone call might accomplish?  As a caregiver, you’re not dealing with a constructed reality.  Remember the tornado?  Reality left years ago....

Tonight...all alone on my front porch...I talked with my grandmother.  I told her that I missed her.  I know she heard me.  Maybe my pastor was right about this journey.  I did find something.  I found MY memories.  But tonight I'm wondering if it's more painful to forget...or to remember. 

God knows my pain and He will be with me in my journey.

“Jesus said, "I will never leave you or forsake you, so we can say with confidence that, The Lord is my helper I will not fear." Hebrews 13:5,6.  

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