I have decided to write a series of blog posts called “What’s Working”, about the things that are going well in my mom’s dementia journey. It’s easy to get bogged down in the stuff that’s going wrong. Believe me, I am as susceptible as the next person to the depression and fear that go with this fun-house ride. But there are a lot of things going right in my life, and I want to share them in the hope that other people might find the joy — however unexpected — in their parents’ elder years.
I’ll start today with the biggest surprise of all: we are having fun. Mom and I crack each other up on an almost daily basis. I told my husband about this, and he didn’t quite believe me. But it’s true. Once Mom and I get past our initial conversation about how unhappy she is because people are stealing from her and denying it to her face (a fairly common dementia symptom that I listen to with complete seriousness, because to her it’s true), she is able to shift gears and enjoy our outings.
Sometimes she’ll say the funniest things, old jokes that would be pretty lame if they weren’t coming from a person with cognitive impairment. It helps that her delivery is perfect — dry, understated, with the slightest hint of mischief — and that we share a Muppet Show/Vaudeville Circuit sense of humor. The utter surprise of hearing her crack a joke after being so distraught always makes me burst out laughing, and before she knows it, she’s laughing too.
We’re pulling out of the driveway of her assisted living and deciding where to go.
Mom: What are we doing today?
Me: Well . . .
Mom: Deep subject.
Both: HA HA HA HA HA!
We’re almost to the intersection at the end of her street and the light turns red.
Me: We missed the green light. Shoot!
Both: HA HA HA HA HA!
We’re at a restaurant with my husband. Mom takes a sip of water but spills some in her lap.
Me (deadpan): I think you have a drinking problem.
Mom (not missing a beat): Hic.
Me (to my husband, who is laughing): SEE WHAT I MEAN??
Yesterday at our knitting group, appropriately called the “Knit Wits”, we were talking about something having to do with the Bible. Mom was bent over her sewing (I knit, she sews), and I tapped her on the shoulder to invite her into the conversation.
Me: Hey Mom, what’s your favorite Bible verse about raising teenagers?
Mom: “It came to pass . . .”
Knit Wits: HA HA HA HA HA!
See? See why I love her? Besides all the obvious reasons (she’s my mom, she’s a generous person, she took good care of me when I was little), she’s funny.
Delight is necessary; it’s one of the things that’s missing from the lives of many elders. I want her to be delighted. I want her to laugh. The surprise is that, if I stay open her, she delights me. She makes me laugh. And that makes it possible for me to keep showing up, day after day. That is working.