On returning to Ontario in spring, Mom and I had several consecutive enjoyable visits filled with ‘catch up’ conversations. It wasn’t long though, before our conversations became repetitive and began to alarm me. Mom’s stories were always the same. Initially I interrupted her to say she’d already told me that, but over time I just allowed her to repeat her stories pretending they were new to me. Our conversations were like broken records: I remembered that I was responding to her remarks in exactly the same fashion as I had in the previous visit. It always surprised me that she didn’t seem to notice that.
How could I insult her or hurt her feelings by challenging her about her repetitious and boring conversations? How could I tell her she was getting to be dull company? Why would I start what would surely become an argument about how she should live her life? She had the right to make her own decisions, didn’t she, even if they weren’t the ones I’d like her to make? As long as she’s safe, is what I settled on.
“I’m losing it, Barb,” she announced one day as I arrived for a visit. “Oh Mom, what are you talking about?” I scoffed. Following her into the kitchen, I noticed scraps of paper scattered haphazardly across the counter tops and table. “What are all these bits of paper, Mom?” “I told you I’m losing it” she cried. “I have to make notes so I don’t forget things.” Suggesting that we all need to do that from time to time, I proposed she might do better by putting her reminders on a full sheet of paper so they’d be a bit more organized and less likely to get lost. Snapping back at me, seeming agitated with a tinge of panic, she barked “you do it your way. I’ll do it mine,” Stepping back and watching her fumble around the room, fuming while collecting her scraps of paper, I felt the skin on my arms prickle. Something was very wrong. She, who had reigned over her widowed life with an iron fist, seemed to be clinging feebly to that control.
Once disclosed, her cognitive symptom decline was transparent. It seemed to race in a downward trajectory in tandem with her physical decline. In true Mom fashion though, bravado was her face to the world. I was not so brave. I could summon up only tears as I watched her crumble behind that mask. When she asked me to take over her financial affairs, I knew that she understood what was happening to her. Within three months, she could no longer follow simple commands, read her newspaper, walk without assistance, or live independently.
A year later, my fierce and fearless, defiant and exasperating mother is gone. An imposter using her name lives bedridden in a nursing home in town. That woman knows my name, remembers my childhood, weeps with joy when I come to visit and begs me not to forget her when I leave. Her repetitive stories have been replaced by a continuous loop of questions. “Where am I? Why am I here? What happened to me? When can I go home?”
The TV in her room stays on all day and all night, but it’s just white noise. She no longer has any stories to repeat.
My mother passed away on July 28, 2019.