I think about the arc of my mother’s life from wife, mother and career; to my father’s passing; through the whimsical and friendly hallucinations she initially experienced, then the terrifying delusional episodes that caused despair and injury; and on to the advanced stage of dementia that she has now attained.
The staff asks me to thin out her closet because too many clothes confuse my once stylish mother. Her ability to speak is gone. Sometimes I long for the days of the Dr. David hallucinations when she would talk endlessly about the plans for her elaborate wedding to the imaginary doctor. But now there’s mostly just silence.
I drive up to the side door with direct access to the memory center. From that vantage point I can see her window. I can see the outline of her heavy wooden dresser and the blue lamp, a treasured gift from my father. I can see the television that’s no longer watched, but I can’t see her. Some days I park and go in. Others, sliding my foot to the accelerator I bolt out of the parking lot.
I remember how impeccably my mother would dress, each outfit paired with matching accessories. Nothing would ever clash, not even the things you couldn’t see. But now she puts together outfits of plaid shirts, print pants and striped sweatshirts. Her nail polish is chipped and after each meal her clothes stained from the various items on the menu. And the long, thin fingers of her hands marked by the spots of age are now perpetually sticky.
Her dentures gone, likely wrapped in a napkin and finding their way into the trash unnoticed. It’s hard to see my mother’s toothless appearance. It allows her face to sag; the way really old faces do.
Every few months in a lopsided parent-teacher kind of way, the medical director asks to meet with me. He summarizes my mother’s general state, “She’s stable; she has plateaued in the illness, Lisa.”
I grow to despise the concept of “stability.” It’s the purgatory of dementia. It means that she is neither improving nor declining. Just standing still in the disease.
Throughout her time in the memory center, residents give up their fight and die. I sit in mother’s Lazy-Boy recliner with a view to the main hallway watching the “cleaning out process” undertaken by each family. And I savor a bittersweet cocktail of sadness, anger and guilt. Each family is now relieved of their weighty responsibility; their loved one is free from the debilitating illness.
And I watch my mother continue in her state of stability.