Ten years ago my mother moved into a retirement community.
For six years she lived in a lovely apartment in the assisted living section, while her dementia continued to worsen. She has spent the last four years in a slow decline, in a secured area of that same retirement community.
As her dementia has progressed, I’ve done my best to embrace each version of her.
My 85-year old Mother is now in the end stage of dementia.
It may have been a stroke that caused her to turn this last corner, or just the natural progression of the disease. There is no need for diagnostic tests. They would only serve to satisfy our curiosity. The end result is the same.
As they say in memory care, “there has been a significant change.”
She is completely immobile except for her left foot which she wiggles in response to touch or in time to the music of Frank Sinatra, and her left arm which she occasionally raises while sleeping, bearing a strong resemblance to Rosie The Riveter.
She is no longer verbal.
Her ability to swallow is compromised. Her liquids must be thickened and her solid food must be pureed.
Four times a day she rides a Hoyer lift, as she is moved back and forth between her bed and a reclining wheelchair. It’s as if she has a Disneyland E ticket for an amusement park ride no one ever wants to board. She endures it all gracefully.
At the onset of this final decline, I was sad. For a few days I occasionally boo-hooed at her bedside, grieving the decade and a half that we have lived without the original version of Mom.
Once I quit feeling sorry for myself, I realized there is a certain sweetness to this stage.
There are no more repeated sentences. The questions composed of jumbled words which seemed impossible to answer appropriately, have ceased. The gibberish is gone.
At times, she has a flat expression or is just too sleepy to open her eyes. But, some days she awakens from a nap in her bed with a sweet, contented smile – much like an infant.
Other times she is bright-eyed and able to follow a conversation with her eyes. There have been silent giggles that turn into giant, yet still silent, belly laughs. These are so delightful I don’t miss the sound of her original laugh.
Occasionally, it seems that the pathways in her brain have been magically reconnected.
When she refused to eat, we realized she was simply refusing to eat foods with a texture she didn’t like. I mean, really – not every food works in a pureed form.
She knew exactly what was going on. Her hunger strike at breakfast ended when oatmeal was taken off the menu. My sister clued the nurses in that Mom is a cream of wheat girl!
Her daily menus are now heavy on mashed potatoes, pudding, malts, and double scoops of ice cream. When she won’t eat anything…she will eat ice cream. Even when she is too tired to open her eyes, she opens her mouth awaiting the next spoonful.
These days, she really does eat dessert first.
Sure, there have been peaks and valleys as she slows down and then rallies. Any pain or discomfort is quickly soothed by the warm embrace of a morphine haze.
Always a college hoops fan, she is here for one more season of March Madness. The games serve as energetic, happy background music.
As we head into the Sweet Sixteen, I am not entirely certain she will be here for the Final Four.
Instead, she is on the road to a long awaited heavenly reunion with her Sweetie Pie.
Until then, we will savor the time we have left with her.
Mom will savor the ice cream. Two scoops at a time, with Hershey’s syrup.
Because, in more ways than one, life is sweet.