August 30, 2020

Again, still, her short term memory is seconds long.
Mom: When are they coming?
Me: Wednesday.
Mom: What day is it today?
Me: Sunday
Mom: How many days is that?
Me: Three days.
Mom: And they’re coming what day?
Me: Wednesday.
Mom: What day is it today?
Et cetera. Ad infinitum.
When she talked to my sister tonight she asked, “When are you coming?” I swear I hung my head and thought to myself: if I hear that question one more time I’m going to shoot myself in the head.
I won’t really, obviously, but I think she asked me 40 times this afternoon when our out of state family was coming to visit. (Yes, I know, they haven’t visited in years and they pick a deadly pandemic year to visit????) I believe it’s a combination of excitement and nervousness. She’s really excited to see them, but I also think she’s nervous about it too. It will really shake up her world. We have a very quiet, mostly secluded life here. Even when we go out we rarely leave the car, opting for drive thrus and curbside pick up whenever possible. Suddenly there will be five extra people in her house and it will confuse her to no end. We had three electricians here for two days this week and by the end of each night I think she thought there’d been a football team in her house all day. Even the TV overwhelms her. Her most common thought at the end of the day is that we had so much going on today, so many people in and out all day, that it’s hard to keep track. This on days when we’ve been alone and haven’t seen a single other soul on the planet except for the people on TV.
I get frustrated and tired and just about lose my patience, but at the same time remind myself that there will be a time when I will wish she could still speak, when I will hold her hand and watch her breathe and wish I could watch a baseball game with her again. (Is there a game on tonight? We already watched it. They played this afternoon. See? I don’t remember that at all.)
Two things of significance.
One, she took herself off the road. She told me a few days ago that she has decided she’s done driving, that she’s never going to drive again. She says it makes her too nervous. She hasn’t driven since mid-March. She used to drive once a week, a few miles, to a restaurant where she had breakfast with former coworkers. They’ve been doing this for more than twenty years. COVID hit and “breakfast” got moved to Zoom. Maybe a month or so ago they began meeting at a park, social distancing with masks. I drove her there, a friend brought her home. Otherwise, she never drove anywhere. She would offer and I would decline, saying I preferred to drive and that it gave me something to do. She was a good driver, even at the end, but it still made me nervous. Her too, apparently. She apologized when she told me, saying it would put more on my plate, but I told her it wouldn’t be any more than it is now, so no big deal.
Second, she’s begun to notice her memory loss. She’s always acknowledged it in some way. She’s seen “cognitive decline” on medical-related paperwork but always just said, “Oh, that doesn’t sound good.” She’s made jokes about it: “You know me, in one ear, out the other.” But this week it began to worry her. “Why can’t I remember?” she asked. All I could say was, “I don’t know.” Then turn away quickly in case the tears that threatened burst through the damn I’ve built. There are differing opinions about whether to tell a loved one or not that they have dementia among the support group members. Some are very open about it. Some don’t tell them because it will only upset them. I’m in the former camp. As a nurse, retired, she’ll know exactly what it means to have dementia and she’ll be crushed. She won’t remember, but she’ll be crushed.
Or will she? She does remember some things. Things with strong emotion attached do stay. She remembers her friend died in February; that another friend died a few years ago. She remembers her family is coming to visit (though it took a few reminders for that to sink in). She remembered recently that she’d forgotten a friend’s birthday and we went round and round for a week about if she’d sent a card or not until she finally remembered, or gave up the fight. I’m not sure which.
Here’s a moment from today. It’s not a happy moment, but maybe there’s a chuckle in there– if you’re inclined toward the macabre? We were waiting in line for some drinks at a fast food place, talking about the pandemic. Mom said, “I’m sure it would be hard for people my mom’s age. It’s hard enough for me.” I made some sort of affirming noise. “I don’t remember how old she was when she died. I guess it doesn’t matter if I remember those kinds of things.  After all, I’m 85.” I didn’t say anything, but thought real loud, “she was 86.”

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