It is a sultry Wednesday afternoon.
My daughter and I have driven south to the near north suburbs of Chicago for a visit to my parent’s house and a hair appointment. K is a master stylist with a well-known hair salon. Doing hair has been her fall-back since she hasn’t been able to find a job that relates to her degree.
Hair has been good to her, though. She’s probably making more money than she would had she found a job.
We pull in the driveway and are greeted by my sister’s dogs. Mom, Dad, and Sister A are gathered in the living room waiting for us. Hair day is a big day for them. At least mom’s hair gets washed every six weeks. Dad loves hair day.
“She’s not eating much,” Sister A whispers to me. “Only if we bring her her food.”
This is depressed mom. She knows something is wrong, but she can’t understand what. “Well, I brought donuts. Maybe she’ll want one later.”
Mom is bundled in a jacket. She says she’s freezing. She looks lost until my daughter tells her to come into the kitchen where everything is set up.
Mom perks up. She is center stage now and lickety split she’s into the kitchen salon and while the hair color is being slapped on her head, I hear her asking K, “What are they talking about in there?”
This is paranoid mom. Always afraid someone is talking about her behind her back. Afraid we are saying something critical.
K says she doesn’t know; she can’t hear. Then I hear my mom ask K, “how’s your mother doing?”
K says, “Fine. She’s in the living room.”
Mom answers, “Oh, I didn’t know she came with you.”
This is forgetful mom. She can’t remember from one minute to the next. Terribly frustrating for my dad. When he reminds her of things she has forgotten, she gets flustered. When we remind her, she says, “oh, yes.”
Dad is fidgeting. He gets up. “I have something for you,” he says to me. “but I had to hide it. Your mother found it yesterday and hid it under some of her clothes near her closet and I spent all night looking for it.”
Sister A says, “She hid the checkbook again last week. Took us days to find it.”
This is anxious mom. She doesn’t know what to do with herself but she needs to do something. She can’t complete a task any more.
“And she’s having trouble in the bathroom,” says A. “You know . . . going and wiping and not making it in time.”
“I catch her washing out her underwear,” Dad asks when he comes back into the room. He has handed me a pile of mail to give to my son.
“Is it time for adult diapers?” I ask.
This is incontinent mom. This is what embarrasses her. This is a slippery slope.
Dad has sour look on his face. I know he feels a certain amount of shame for her. He says, “Sometimes she makes us go out to the garage at midnight to look for her kids.” Her mind has reverted. She sometimes thinks she’s a young mom.
Her mind has reverted. She sometimes thinks she’s a young mom. This is hallucinating mom. Sometimes she even thinks there are babies in the car and she wants to call the police.
“And she tried to call her mother in Chicago several times but she kept dialing her own phone number and was frustrated that it was always busy.”
“Dad tried to tell her grandma has been dead for twenty-five years and the house has been torn down but mom keeps fighting him,” Sister A says.
This is the unreasonable mom. Her reasoning abilities are about shot. Nothing can convince her that she is wrong.
“How do you reason with someone who just doesn’t have the capability?”
“You don’t reason.” I have said this a million times. “You have to enter their world.” I say it but I don’t live with mom 24/7. I am sure I would be bonkers by now if I did.
Dad creaks back in his chair. “Then she accuses me of lying and tells me to take a hike and—”
This is angry mom. Oh, how frustrated she must be at all of us. She must feel so lost. So, she lashes out at those who are closest to her.
K has finished with mom and now it’s dad’s turn for a trim.
He limps into the make-shift salon in the kitchen while mom takes his seat in the living room. She is a little more perky now than she was when we arrived. I wonder if it is just the change in routine or the socialization or the attention.
She fluffs her freshly-colored, cut, washed, and blown-dried hair. She is still beautiful. Still a shining light. We tell her she’s beautiful. She says, she knows. She has been told that all her life. I’m tickled to see a sparkle in her eyes.
This is dignified mom. She always had a confidence in her beauty. After all, she was a model in her younger years. She wanted one of her daughters to be a model like her. I disappointed her with my big hips and chest. She told me so. My sister tried modeling school once. She wasn’t cut out for all the frilly dresses.
The dogs get excited about someone walking down the street. They are making a ruckus. Mom smiles, looks at me and asks me if these are my dogs.
We are back to forgetful mom. She tells me they are cute. I see a darkness form behind her eyes. Like she just remembered that she forgot something but she can’t locate the memory. She looks down. Ashamed.
Sister A whispers to me, “She’s been telling me she just wants to die.”
This is despondent mom. My stomach churns and yet I know I’d feel the same way. Living within a swell of emotions and layers of memory loss would drag me into the grave. Quickly. My friends (whose parents also have or had dementia) and I have often said if we lose our abilities to reason, to remember, to live in reality, just take us out to the shed and shoot us.
Mom looks up. “What trouble are you two concocting over there?”
Sister A says a little louder, “The dogs are mine, mom.”
“Well, they are very cute. When is K going to do my hair?”