Loving Is Hard: Dementia and My Imposter-Mother
Digital (Blended) Photo by Deb Trotter
I called my mother this morning, but she didn't answer the phone: Imposter-Mother answered instead. I don't love Imposter-Mother ... I don't even like her.
When she hears my voice she responds with one of her favorite words, "HEY!"
I ask how she's doing. Big mistake. (I've got to stop asking that question. I know by now how she'll react.) Imposter-Mother says the same thing she always does in response to my "How are you today?" She says, "oh, not good. I'm having a bad day." (At 10:00 AM?)
"Oh, mom. I'm sorry. What's wrong?" (I don't want her to answer. I know all of the responses now.)
"I lost my dog to cancer. Did I tell you? Or maybe it wasn't cancer. Now that I think about it, I think someone stole him and took him to Charlotte. I'll never see him again. They won't know what to feed him - he'll die. I just know it."
Mom's dog has been gone for a month. She's obsessed with the loss. "He slept with me every night. Did you know that?"
I sigh. "Yes. You told me. But at least you have another dog at home." (My sister's dog, Peanut, is living with mom and is now considered mom's dog.)
"Oh. You mean Peanut? She doesn't need me. She just sits on the couch and looks sad." (Imposter- Mother acts like she doesn't even like Peanut, who's been with mom for five years.)
"But she's a good little dog mom. She would love some attention."
"Well. She's not Chase." (Chase -- the dog who died)
The dog thing has really shook mom to the core - and when a dementia patient gets all shook up, Katie bar the door.
My mom has always been the woman I love most in all the world. But she's no longer the mother I remember. Nope. What I get now is Imposter-Mother.
Imposter-Mother is hard to love. I often think she doesn't want me to love her.
Mom (aka, Pretender-Mother) has Dementia. She's had it over five years now, and it's taken over every aspect of her life - as well as that of my siblings and me.
This is just so hard.
I love my mother so much, but sometimes it feels like I love someone who isn't there anymore. A pretender lives in my mother's body.
My once kind, generous mother is now angry and selfish. About almost everything ...
"I'm so lonesome," she says. Your brother has to work all week, so he only comes to visit on weekends. And Becky never comes to see me." (I know this isn't true. Becky goes to visit mom three times a week. She works too, which mom can't seem to understand.)
She pauses a minute, and I think she might bring up the dog again, but now her obsession is her loneliness, and she still has one target left - me.
"And YOU moved away, all the way across the country, and left me for Wyoming." (I'll never live that down, and I'll never move back. I love Wyoming.)
Mom sighs, "Did I tell you I lost my dog?"
I sigh back, "Yes, mom. You did. I'm really sorry."
"I don't know what happened to him," she said, "I think someone stole him. No. Wait, I think Dottie stole him."
"Mom! There is no way Dottie stole your dog. Please get that out of your head right now." There's an unusual edge to my voice. I hate that.
Dottie is mom's caregiver, who mom loves one day and hates the next. Dottie is wonderful, but mom resents her sometimes - or she doesn't recognize Dottie and threatens to call the police when she wants Dottie to leave.
How does Dottie do it? Stay with mom and remain calm, make certain mom takes her medication, cook her dinner, clean her kitchen, take her to the doctor, and listen to mom's sullen complaints every single day. I wish I were more like Dottie - calm, self-assured.
If you have experienced being around a close family member with advanced-dementia, you understand how difficult caring for my mother is.
THIS WOMAN IS NOT MY MOTHER
This isn't the mom I once knew and loved. Our last phone conversation was about her obsession with not being able to drive anymore because we took her keys away and sold her car. But that's a story for another day.
My husband, a kind, retired physician, took me by the hand after my last phone conversation with mom. I was in tears, as usual. He told me something that really helped ...
"This woman is not your mother. Your mother, the one who loved you unconditionally - the one you considered your best friend - the one who rocked you back and forth when you screamed all night with tonsillitis at age four - the one who, when you were a Senior in high school, only owned one dress that whole year so you'd have enough money to apply to colleges - the one who drove you eight hours to get you to college, and then all the way back home, alone in the dark, through the curvy Great Smoky Mountains - that woman was your mother.'
"The woman you know now is a stranger. She still knows who you are, but one day she won't. She knows she's losing her mind, and she hates it. So when she's afraid, or angry, or confused, she lashes out at you, your brother, and your sister and refuses to believe she can no longer care for herself.'
"It won't do you any good to worry and cry. Shirley (my mom) can't help it. It's the disease talking. The best you can do is listen, remain calm, and try to remember that this new woman (Imposter-Mother) doesn't mean most of what she says. Or she does mean it, but her diseased brain its no longer familiar or logical, so she blurts out her feelings and insecurities. She seems mean, but your former mom is in there somewhere. The real Shirley loves you. She needs your compassion."
I am, at once, humbled. Embarrassed. Suddenly determined to help mom the best I can.
Yes, my husband is great that way. (That's what made him a great doctor and an awesome husband.)
I hope his advice helps someone out there too.
Loving someone with Dementia is hard. But I'm trying.
I love you, mom.
If you'd like to comment or share your experience with someone with Dementia, please leave a comment.