I’ve been reacquainting myself with dementia after some time away. Dementia doesn’t rest for a minute. It moves. It moves in a way we like to think of as linear in our own linear-leaning minds. But linear it is not. Nor circular. It is chaotic and random, four-dimensional, weaving in and out of time. One day the one who stands before you can only make sucking sounds with her mouth. The next day/moment she is speaking eloquently of Arabian horses. Who is in there? I make the mistake of wondering this often, without turning the mirror just so, in order to catch my own reflection. Who is in there?
There are repetitions, memories of long ago, and the cloud report. So many big fat clouds. No whisper of a memory of yesterday or the past five minutes. The face takes on a certain crazed look, familiar to anyone who has watched dementia progress. Yet it’s love we feel, and we feel it for the face that’s here before us as well as the face that used to be. A good haircut goes a long way in calming everyone down. The same old haircut, the familiar clothes, the same earrings, the same bit of toothpaste lumped in the sink. Reminders of the time before, the old days. Why do I crave what was, when what is is so much softer, so easy on the heart. The edge has worn away, the anger dissipated. Why not hunger for what’s here, now?
I have a religious friend. I like everything about our friendship but the religion. When she gets preachy she’s like a bad talk show host. Her mouth moves fast but her mind can’t keep up. She forgets who she’s talking to (me) and goes on and on about the lessons we learn from the diagnoses we’re given. She calls it redemption. Our suffering redeems us. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
After a dose of her I often feel I’ve waded through a flooding river of sludge. In my mouth is the bitter taste of ash. It’s like a gun going off inside me. What echoes is a kind of lengthy grief, a sadness that cannot land because dementia doesn’t rest, is always moving, always changing. Nothing is fixed. The story quivers and shakes and then, though I know better, I hope for an opening, a reassurance, a sign of the past, a jumble of sticks to cling to in a river in flood. We are down to the very essentials. What’s happening now and who are we? And then something inexpressibly lovely and calm and wise and true will float from her mouth. These days it’s about clouds.
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