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.
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.