Dementia in Family and Friends

Image depicting dementia

It’s been two years since my mom died. But in my mind, she had already passed away seven years ago, with the onset of dementia. Her final death was just a formality.

I really miss her. It is hitting me more today than it affected me back then, and I am not sure why. I think it’s because she “needed” to die; needed a way to get out of the misery that life had handed her. And I knew that well back then, and in many ways I wanted her to go on as well so she would be at peace.

I think people just do not understand this disease until it hits a loved one.

At first, it doesn’t seem so bad. When I visit Mom, she smiles. She even laughs at my ever silly jokes. A little forgetful, perhaps, but things seem mostly normal.  When she is sad, though, she does not know why. She can only tell me, “something in my head hurts; something is wrong.”

As the months pass, however, her smiles appear with less frequency. She no longer laughs, and the forgetfulness becomes far worse. She no longer remembers my dad, her sister, her brother, or the wonderful house she lived in for 45 years on Hemlock Road in Penn Valley. It’s the house I grew up in, but like her memories, it’s gone now. It was demolished to make way for a new home; a new family. Life continues.

Mom always remembers me and my sister, though. And she always smiles when she sees us, right up until the very end.

It was so hard to see that crumbled, weak old lady before me, now with a million wrinkles. She was once a vivacious young woman who gave me a very happy childhood. I can’t believe I was formed in her womb. My feelings are muddled; and I’m not sure whether it is pain or pleasure I feel when I visualize her holding me in her arms when I was just a day old. The misery of dementia truly impacts the entire family.

It’s a pain I’d like to forget, too, but I cannot. It’s a stark reminder that we cannot predict the future, and we should ensure our affairs are in order, our estate plans updated, our living will and power of attorney documents prepared (you’ll be shocked at these stats) — and most importantly, that our relationships with loved ones are treated with respect and care.

It’s also a reminder that there are support systems in place for individuals and families dealing with dementia. Read what Kevin Jameson of The Dementia Society of America is doing with his nonprofit in this issue of Giving Tomorrow Magazine.

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