Category Archives: Ideas to Float on

Giving Thanks Despite Dementia

Mom joined us today in giving thanks despite her ongoing battle with dementia. She has struggled with her disease for eight years but I learn a lot from her every day. Thanksgiving 2015 finds me grateful that she is with us and still capable of setting a good example. Here are a few things she’s taught me.

Giving Thanks Despite Dementia

  • Don’t hold on to bitter memories — My mom has lost almost all short term memory as well as the majority of her long term recollections. You might be tempted to interpret this loss as a full-fledged tragedy. But the erasure has left her free of many bad memories. She has forgotten how to carry grudges and can’t summon up any reason to hate people. In her current state, she is a truly liberated person living with an open, loving heart.
  • Be truly grateful for the simple pleasures in your life — My mother can’t feed herself and it takes her a very long time to finish a meal. Nevertheless, she relishes each spoonful of soup and every last crumb of a chocolate chip cookie. You don’t have to eat 10,000 calories or spend a fortune to make your holiday meal special. Slow down. Appreciate what you have and savor what you love.
  • If you have only one phrase to say, make it “Thank you” — Mom can barely speak. Half of what she says sounds like a language from another galaxy. Yet somehow, every once in a while, she still manages to say thank you. When those two little words come out whole, I feel like I just won the lottery. Her example makes me want to try harder to be gracious. If she can do it, anyone can do it.
  • Laughter lightens every burden — Each morning, the first sound we hear from my mother is laughter. Sometimes it sounds crazy, demented. Then other times it’s an expression of engagement with whatever is around her. When she laughs, we laugh, too. It’s incredibly therapeutic. A good laugh does a lot to clear away pain.

It’s hard to be a caregiver.  I get tired just thinking about all the stuff I need to accomplish each day. But when I examine my deeper feelings about the situation, I see that it’s also a privilege to make this journey. Maybe there are other ways to learn these lessons, but for now I am giving thanks despite the daily ordeals that come with dementia.

Dementia Patients and the Dead

Dementia patients and the dead seem to be in close communication. It’s strange to overhear a one-sided conversation between your loved one and a deceased relative, but these exchanges are a common aspect of the disease. Nevertheless, there are times when I look around the room and wonder if others are with us.

Dementia Patients and the Dead

My mom has been having visions of her mother and my father. Both of them passed away many years ago. Her conversations with them seem different from hallucinations she had near the beginning of her diagnosis. During the early stages of dementia, she would fixate on certain objects or people. She believed they had malicious intentions and feared them. The episodes she has now seem reverent, even mystical, by comparison.

Yesterday, in the middle of a meal she looked up at the ceiling and a beautiful smile broke across her face. She called out, “Mother, mother, mother!” What she was seeing made her happy. Mom was very convinced that my grandmother was in the room with us. Then today as I was getting her dressed, she said, “Him, him, him.” I said, “Who is it? Him, who?” She looked behind me and said, “Your father.” When I told her I couldn’t see him, she just laughed. Then she continued staring right over my shoulder as if he was about to tap me on the back.

Maybe I’d pay less attention to these things if her visions hadn’t accelerated right after Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and the Days of the Dead. We live in a part of the country where autumn is a spectacle that ends in a pile of dead leaves. Ghost tours are part of the community heritage. Just last week, a ghost story of mine was featured as part of a Halloween celebration in Jim Thorpe, PA. I enjoy contemplating the “spirits” and I like the sense of spookiness that fall brings. But I’m not sure if I want spirits floating around my mother or occupying my house.

I never contradict my mom when she tells me that some deceased person is here. Their visits make her happy, so why should I argue? There are many mysteries in life that deserve reflection. If dementia is one of them, the afterlife is surely another.