The Beauty of Dementia
I waited. And waited.
I believed that if I were patient, my mother would tell me the full story of her childhood, the cause of my sister’s death, and clarify three major details of my childhood in Flushing, New York. I would honor her privacy, not push her into something that may bring her pain. I had a sense of the answers, but needed to hear them from the source.
Now it’s too late. Her dementia has overtaken her sense of time, person and place. I sensed the mental disarray a year ago, and chose not to press her for answers. I kept telling myself that the time to ask her would become clear, just wait. I thought her memory loss would be a gradual slide, not this jarring leap it had decided to follow.
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But you know what? It’s okay. I no longer remind myself to wait and don’t have to wonder. I can allow the Mystery to be. My grand familial hierarchy will never be mounted behind cheap glass over a fireplace mantle, and the nagging questions that occupied my imagination for decades are now laid to rest.
I sit and witness as she spins through bits of memories; flashes of some mix with others. She guesses whose face she’s looking at in the frame on her bedside table, and wonders when the decades-dead aunt will be home. She smiles when the masculine face of my deceased father is processed as her little grandson. And she kisses the photo of my delicate sister, long dead, who she says she’s meeting for lunch today.
I join in her imagination, and choose the outfit she’ll be wearing for the “lunch date,” laughing as we mock our taste in clothing. Even though she had impeccable style, she now mixes the wrong plaids with florals, and fleece with lace. She is happy. She now has a childlike innocence in her approach to people. And guess what? Now she’ll dance for anyone, where before she thought dancing in public was quite “low brow” and cheapened an elegant female.
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Perhaps within her dementia—the altered interpretation of sensations by which she navigates her world—I will find portions of the answers I sought. If I don’t, then I rest in the fact that I’m now free to interpret the past as I hoped to be my truth.
Perhaps we really were descendants of Spanish royalty! Perhaps my sister did die from pneumonia. And just perhaps I got my curly hair from my Puerto Rican grandfather. Sounds good to me!