Mysteries of Winter…and Dementia

I was raised on a diet of magic sleds and sugar plum fairies. So I have great reverence for the mysteries of winter.  But a real, human chimney sweep has long since replaced Santa as the person most likely to land in my fireplace. I’m not a slave to Christmas customs, apart from my need for a real tree, but this time of year still brings a mystery that challenges my imagination. How has my mother managed to celebrate another birthday?

cropped cake photo

Today is her day. For years, her annual party was overshadowed by family visits that stole the winter spotlight. Now, when these rituals are less prominent, we can have a real party — one just for her. Dementia complicates the event but it doesn’t steal all her pleasure.

It’s nearly impossible to interpret Mom’s speech and ten times harder to know what sensations still surge through her body. Yet, for some reason, Mom has not forgotten what the words “birthday”‘ and “party” mean. She was very happy for my sister when she observed a birthday weeks ago. The mention of my November birthday also made Mom smile. Whenever there is any event resembling a party, Mom’s light goes on and stays lit. Sweets delight her, sparkly things make her smile, and music gets her clapping. How is it that a disease that wiped out her vocabulary and coordination permits her to feel these moments of joy?

During the past seven-years, we have observed a transformation as my mother transitioned from a high stress executive workplace to a cushioned chair with sturdy arms. Much of her old personality has been erased, but the process has been so gradual, it’s hard to believe we are looking at the same person. This change has been as mysterious as the slow growth of an infant who, one day, goes off to college.

We are very fortunate to have her with us for one more birthday. I think it’s most important to cherish her momentary happiness and turn away any thoughts of what she’s lost. Happy birthday, Mom. May your winter dreams be filled with sweet visions and enchanting delights!

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