I took a dare I made with myself yesterday and I shared a passage with Babu. The dare was to give it one more try, see if it is as bad as I think it is every time. I started with asking her if she remembered writing in a diary every day and she absolutely did. She said: “I haven’t written anything in a long time…” That gives me hope that maybe she’d like to get writing again, maybe with my help. She can still write on her own but it’s impossible to read.
Then I asked her if she remembered asking me to find her diaries to make sure they were safe. She did not remember that nor did she remember allowing me to read them. I told her “Well, you did, and here is one from 1940!” I showed her first the image of the page and she seemed so thrilled but she could not read it. She held up her new magnifier to the lap top screen and I said: “Hold on, hold on, I got something for you.” I then showed her that passage typed up and I made it size 48 font. I had to be very selective which passages I show her. So I showed her this one:
Friday, February 2nd, 1940
Eddie Zimba took me home and had to rush to get dressed for the diner dance. We collected Zosh, Eddie, Ernie, and Chester Modzelewski and went. Dinner was rather good (fish.) We danced a lot. After diner we came back for Stretch and Nat and stopped to take pictures at Eddie’s house. The formal went by entirely too fast. Jeb sent Ernie a telegram saying he couldn’t come. The ————
I thought this passage was a brilliant one because Jake is there in that passage but is never mentioned by name. There is a very good reason I didn’t want her to read one including his name. Not yet.
The first place she stopped was to laugh at the name Chester Modzelewski and say that she remembered that name. I’m doubtful she did. I think it’s possible she was just attracted to the very Polish name. The next thing we did was talk about the dinner. At one point I said: “You do like fish.” and she said “I like food” and snorted with laughter. She remembered Ernie, and Zosh, and Natalie, but barely. As always, she remembered geography, Zosh lived on the same street, Ernie was from Vermont and Natalie lived a few streets over. She struggled to remember all the guys but basically it came down to her remembering that: “They were very nice…”
That’s it for this being a pleasant experience. Nearly the whole time, except when talking about how much she loved Ernie, Zosh, and food, she had a pained expression on her face. Everything on her face said she was straining and trying. She could not remember Eddie nor any of the boys mentioned. She truly looked in pain and I could see us heading for disaster.
I switched to showing her pictures, getting her to laugh over the name “Stretch.” She informed me that she didn’t think that was his given name, but a nickname. I had to help her with the words of that conversation like “nickname” because she was struggling not only with memories but also with thoughts and words.
She was pleased to see the pictures and she knew Zosh’s face immediately. But we were headed for the cliff I knew we would be heading for. I tried distraction. I tried moving on to pictures in my phone of the dog but the moment came when I would need the actual dog.
She got into a loop. She began to speak of Jake and her false memory of how he died. You can read more about what is going on with that in this post:
You may think me a monster for not allowing her to think, process, and talk about her husband’s death. It is unlike me. I believe in getting it out. However, besides the fact that she wont be talking about his real death but a delusion she has been stuck in, she is 100 and isn’t processing correctly anymore. We’ve seen this before how much her mental state can dictate her physical and medical state. She gets upset and stays upset. Then has “an episode” which is a panic attack, or sundowning, or a dementia issue, I don’t really know what to call it, I just know where it starts and I’ve seen it end very badly and in the hospital. So yes, I’ve written about being the gatekeeper of her memories, and it can make me feel like a prison guard, but I have to keep her from some thoughts or she wont get away from them on her own the entire rest of the day.
So what do I do? I press morse code (not really, I don’t know morse code!) on our “beeper” system we have for her and in moments Adam is downstairs. I had made a bunch of dog pantomime toward our baby monitor camera, hands folded over by my head like ears, paws up begging, all the while she is talking about “how Jake died” and how responsible she feels. But Adam didn’t see and came down solo. I sent him back upstairs for the dog. In she rushes and makes a b line to Babu. Stella wants to be petted and instead of snooping for food like she usually spends a good five minutes doing, gobbling up everything Babu has dropped on the floor while eating, she goes right to her and sits. She turns her face up in her adorable “hiiii pet meeeee” face. It was like she knew what we needed her for. Snap! Babu is out of it. Now Babu has three of us in the room and we cheerfully distract.
Well, I tried. What did I try? I don’t really know. I tried to give her back the ability to think about her past with out it being negative. I had plans to share some of those sweet early love passages with her if things went well. It feels unfair at times to be working on this project now with out her. It feels unfair to not allow her to think and talk about Jake at all, when there are so many lovely memories. But now I’m sure, I’m sure it would come to this every time. So that’s out. The gatekeeper has locked the door to the distant past. The rainbow bridge to get there was already crumbling. I know the past can and will still enter, and that is more than fine, that is beautiful, but I know where there be dragons and I can no longer tread.
How many metaphors did I put in that paragraph?!?!?!?!?
But it’s fine, Babu was fine moments after it started. But there will be no more sharing passages with Babu but I am soothed with the fact that every day I create new and in-the-now memories with her.
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Bless your hearts. And Stella’s. Eighty years ago is a long way back to remember. I’m sixty and find myself losing the names, places and events that I thought I would never forget. Sometimes it does feel like a physical barrier, like heavy cotton wrapped around it all. I guess living in the present moment might be best for Babu. Thank goodness for Stella.
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Well you tried and I guess you can do no more. It is so sad that she doesn’t remember and it sounds as if those memories have faded a lot since you started the blog when she would talk about Zosh and others. I guess the early stages of dementia are more upsetting because the person is aware that they should know something and it is just out of reach but later it is probably more upsetting for the family and friends while their family member has gone beyond being able to be upset about lost memories.
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Sigh! I know it’s only going to get harder. Right now there is very little sorrow and very much joy and I will hold on to that.
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