It’s 5:30 AM. My body is still, but my mind is screaming. This feeling of familiarity is not comfortable.
I find myself rapid cycling through the 7 stages of grief in a given day; I’ve become quite the multi-tasker. Conversations turn into lulls for no particular reason other than that my mind is straying off to the Sunken Place. “Snap out of it,” I’ll think to myself. “You’re being rude.” Sometimes I fear I come across as insatiably ambivalent when interacting with others, but I struggle to stay mindful in other’s realities when the crushing weight of mine is suffocating me nearly every second of the day. So I go through the motions. Ambiguous loss is painful. I re-live losing my mother every day and have been for the last 5 years, and it doesn’t get better. That’s a harsh pill I’m forced to swallow.
Sometimes I fear judgment for how I process my mother’s #Dementia (Frontotemporal Degeneration, specifically). I find myself being angry towards girls tagging their mom’s in Facebook posts and the irrelevant 3 comment exchange that they have beneath it. Seeing sea glass, her favorite, sends me into a spiral. Recently I cried because I couldn’t gossip with her about the Royals. But so it goes!
I’ll fixate on things I did wrong as a child, the hurt I caused by rebelling, the unconditional love she gave me when I sobbed on her chest at 16 apologizing profusely, yet she never once said “I told you so”. That love is still there, burning as strong as ever. So why do I feel so guilty for missing someone who’s right in front of me?
The grief surrounding #Dementia is so complex and isolating. Some days I’ll have the mindfulness to be able to reflect on the reality of the situation and to accept it for what it is. Other days, I might be slighted by the smallest inconvenience, yet it’s enough to break me down and put me back in bed at 2PM. I chastise myself. I cry. I soothe myself, and I start over.
My mom lives a simple life these days. Living at home still with my wonderful, kind, patient father, she goes to day treatment groups and music therapy, pre-#COVID19 of course (things she once provided for her clients), gets endless care packages from friends and family, and spends her evenings rewatching Gilmore Girls until it’s time to go to bed. That was always one of our favorite shows to watch together. She comes alive when she’s with her family, watching silently when she’s alone but laughing along with the dialogue if we’re enjoying time with her. Her mind has always been her worst enemy, something I think I inherited from her- but these days she seems very content and enjoys the simple things in life. She’s ignorant to the chaos of the world and the flaws of our society. Her universe has shifted vastly, so we shifted with her. We communicate with hugs and endless kisses since her speech has been taken from her.
I remember some of the last times we had a verbal conversation- I was staying with my parents at the time and it was a rough point in time for me in my personal recovery. Lorelai was on TV, witty as ever and my mom enthralled as usual. I barged into the living room bawling my eyes out, sitting next to her. Her animated eyes darted from the tv to me, reaching out to me instinctively; which admittedly made me cry harder. I wanted to have her talk me down more than anything, but laying in her arms was good enough for me. She held me for a few minutes, softly patting my back and kissing my forehead in increments of 5. I always count.
“What’s wrong?” she slowly whispered, in between kisses. And that was enough for me. I lost it, just crying about everything. She didn’t need to say anything back. She didn’t need to give me an ultimatum, as much as I wanted to hear her advice. In that moment, I knew my mom would always be there for me, #Dementia or not. I vented, cried some more, and she just kept holding me and patting my back. 23 year old me at the time reverted back to my childhood, and in that moment, I felt safe. We stayed like that for a few minutes in silence. I listened to her heartbeat and counted the freckles on her chest. It was like she had an entire galaxy on her skin. She’s so beautiful.
Then the intrusive part of my brain reminds me that she has #Dementia. One day she won’t be here.
I chastise myself. I cry. I soothe myself, and I start over.
The most memorable conversation we’ve had so far in the grips of her #Dementia was on her birthday last year. There were no words exchanged on her part.
I went over to my parents house to see her, and I became a basket case again- but no fear! She saved the day with more kisses. Something I think about more often than I’d like to admit is the crushing regret I have regarding my past and my mistakes. I’m not perfect. It’s taken me 25 years to get to this position of self-actualization. Regrettably, a large chunk of my teenage years were spent… un-traditionally. I lost a big part of my childhood because of it and I’ll keep myself up at night replaying scenarios from 10 years ago or harsh things that I said, and I become so hollow. I thought about this guilt a lot on her birthday, which was selfish. I told her I hated that I wasted so much time pushing her away and that I’ll never get that time back. So I cried again, but this time, she cried with me. She reached out a little harder and pulled me in a little faster. Her kisses were a little more aggressive. I laid on her chest once more, for a few minutes longer. It reminded me of a book she read to me when I was younger; “as long as you’re living, my baby you’ll be.” I will always be her baby. In sickness and in health. And she will always be my momma.
Some days I struggle. Some days I thrive. I find that the best way I can honor her is by being as present as possible. Even still, she teaches me the most profound lessons. Throughout this battle, she has taught me to be kind, to be patient, and to love as hard as you can in order to have little to no regrets. She wakes up every day with a smile on her face, loved by her husband, adored by her children. I think she knows that too, so her journey is gentle.
For me, the journey is isolating, so I found solace in peer support. It was vital to my #MentalHealth. I joined an online support group for family members of loved ones with FTD. I was immediately flooded with support, and it was relieving. Questions that I had for years were answered, and more importantly, I found people who understood my pain. There was a place I could actively process my grief without fear of judgment or claims to be too morbid. Just this morning, I posted about another sleepless night, and immediately the comments started flowing from all over the world. There is a solidarity in grief despite it being different for every person. I find comfort in that.
As I type this, I can’t help but feel close to her, being the published writer that she is. I look at pictures of her at my age and see the scary similarities. I catch myself laughing like her, and I smile; she is me and I am her. She’s in my DNA. She was my blueprint. Who I aspired to be growing up. I’d like to think I’m just like her, just with my own funky twist.
My grief is different every day, but that’s okay. I know that I do not walk this journey alone despite the fear the grief instills in me. My beautiful, resilient, gentle, warm, matriarch pumps through my veins and showers me with kisses that somehow mean something different to me every time. Maybe tomorrow it will be easier to breathe- and like clockwork, I will soothe myself and start over, just as I have been.
#MentalHealth #COVID19 #Dementia