One of my mom’s closest friends, Debra, had a mother who suffered from dementia. It was heartbreaking to see this once-vibrant, sassy woman, lose her mental faculties. Debra and her husband still worked, and their daughters were off at college, so I was hired to hang out with Momma during the day.
It was a humbling experience. Momma didn’t speak English very well, as she was from Italy, even though she had lived in the states for decades. I could understand her, but barely, and sometimes she would just start talking in Italian, which was an adventure in and of itself.
Seeing Momma fade in and out of lucidity was extremely fascinating to me. Sometimes she was really happy, and other times she was plain pissed off. It made me realize that I would never be able to know what she would remember of me specifically, be it good or bad, so I vowed to make whatever moments we had together pleasant. Even if she was yelling, even if she was spewing racist remarks, or trying to engage me in an argument, I never would dig in. I didn’t know what moments would stick and what would be quickly forgotten.
We watched a lot of movies, and since she liked being helpful I would come up with clothes for her to fold, change to count, food to prepare, and dishes to wash. Playing games and other activities were out of the question, as her attention wasn’t long enough for any consistent length of time.
Even though I only helped out for a month or so, I was thankful for the experience more than the income. I have always been blessed with family who live long and healthy lives. (Knock wood.) Working with Momma opened my eyes to seeing a kind of vulnerability I have never experienced before. It’s probably why I tend to focus more on positives in any given situation than negatives: I’d rather have the happy moments of my life play over and over again…