During my last trip to Florida to visit my folks, I went to visit my Mom at the Memory Place. I swiped myself into the unit and spotted Mom in the living room, her back to me. She and Jane, another resident, were watching an old episode of I Love Lucy. It was nice to see them laughing. I approached my Mom, putting a hand gently on her shoulder and planted a kiss on her head.
“Hi Mom, it’s me, your daughter, Lauren J. Walter,” I said (I always use my full name the first time I see her in hopes it will help her connect to my identity).
She turned to look at me, her eyes rheumy and puzzled. It was going to be one of those days, I thought. It was understandable, due to the challenge of me living and working in North Carolina and her being in Florida, it had been about six weeks since our last visit.
“Hi Honey,” Mom said, but it was clear I was a generic honey, a person she might know, but wasn’t sure.
“Hi Mom. I can see you’re busy, so I’m going wait over there until your show is over. Then we can catch up.”
She nodded. I moved over to the corner and leaned against the wall.
Jane tapped Mom on the arm.
“Who is that?” Jane asked.
Mom shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not really sure, I think it might be my daughter,” Mom said.
My heart broke just a little – not as much as it used to, just a little pang.
Jane pulled back. “What do you mean? You don’t know your own daughter? That’s the most horrible thing I ever heard,” Jane said, her voice loud and irate.
I stood in my corner and covered my mouth to prevent my laughter from seeping out. Ironic how the only one who could say what was buried deep in my heart was another patient.
Mom gave a small, contrite smile and thought for a minute before she spoke. “She might be one of my sisters or my aunt,” she offered.
Jane shook her head and muttered, softer this time, “how can you not know your own daughter?”
The two women turned back to Lucy, and in just a second were laughing at her antics, the conversation long forgotten.
I smiled. That sentiment has crossed the mind of anyone who has ever loved a dementia patient at least once, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. How refreshing to hear the words said aloud, in a context that did no real harm to my Mom and was forgotten in a few seconds.
There are moments I wish I could forget as easily. But the pain of being erased by dementia was eased a little in that very human moment. I keep it close in my heart; the next time I’m a generic honey, I’ll be able to smile.
Ciao for now,