Tag Archives: relationships with elders

Act Now Before Dementia Does

I’m not young, but there’s a happy kid inside me. The color and noise of fireworks still brings thrills. Mom could not attend the 4th of July spectacle this year. But the rockets’ red glare made me oddly happy about past actions we took to help Mom enjoy life — despite dementia.

Flowers from Between the Pond and the Woods

It was only two years ago that my sister and I took great pains to haul Mom to the Stroudsburg fireworks. We’d never seen them in that town before and we wanted to arrive early. So we decided to skip the backyard barbecue idea and let a French restaurant serve Mom her favorite holiday food — salmon. It doesn’t sound very patriotic, but it made her awfully happy.

In those days, she was still walking well. We helped her along while dragging lawn chairs through crowds of restless kids and tired parents. I’m not sure she even realized why we were marching across the town. But she did it with a smile.

Although Mom still understood plenty, we were just beginning to comprehend how this disease would alter her and what that would mean to our family. Tough as it was to address her growing needs, I could see that the future would hold even more hurdles that could limit her social activity. The Stroudsburg fireworks were an early shot in a long campaign to take Mom everywhere, protect her remaining skills, and fill ourselves with memories of her doing things she loved.

Events like these were worth every bit of stress, sweat, and aggravation. It was worth choking on the second hand smoke of careless teenagers and walking for an eternity to get a good viewing spot. Until the first giant bloom of color spread across the sky, I don’t think she knew how our fireworks extravaganza would end. But after one radiant flower exploded she was delighted as a joyful kid by the sparkles above us.

These memories illustrate a point that’s key for families just entering the labyrinth of this disease. Don’t let your loved one’s awkward mobility — or your  private worry about reactions from strangers — keep you from offering them every kind of fun they can manage. The number of good family memories you can store up is limited only by your determination to make them happen. Time moves faster than you can imagine from where you sit today. Plan, sweat, slog, and enjoy all that’s good while it’s still within your power.

The Life Expectancy of Emotional Ties

My mom has a hard time talking now. She utters strings of sounds that resemble words but make no sense unless you know her. Somehow, though, she still understands feelings: happy, sad, thankful. So we stick to activities that awaken emotions. Visits with old friends revive her love of life.

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This week I organized things so she could have quality time with her lifelong best friend. They met in first grade, shared teenage secrets, and learned the jitterbug in poodle skirts. They helped each other through the challenges of motherhood and marriage and never, ever lost touch. As I prepped Mom for the visit, I reminded her how they went dancing on Saturday nights and lived in the same town for many years. She smiled but had no idea who or what I was talking about.

When her friend arrived, she was thrilled just to be near her. Though Mom can’t tell stories well, she is an ardent listener. Hearing about grandchildren and holiday plans made her grin. She loved the tale of her friend sneaking all the way around her back yard just to escape the notice of her barking dog. Mom’s comments were limited to a few things she can repeat — “Oh, that’s nice” and “I like that” — but she seemed to absorb the essence of her  old pal as they sat together. The visit boosted her more than any vitamin could.

Her friend’s visit meant a lot to me, too. Some of Mom’s family members don’t want to see her because they think her condition will upset them too much. Whoa, they are missing something precious. Mom’s words and abilities are dwindling fast. This is the time to be a witness her sweetness, before dementia erases it for good.

My moments with her are like butterfly joy. Her spirit hovers, comes close, then moves on to matters I can only imagine. I know this time will end, but I wish with all my heart that butterfly season would last forever.