Ghost in the mirror
I will never forget the first time my mother forgot my name. She looked up at me with a blank expression and asked, “who are you?” Even though I knew this could happen someday, it still felt devastating. Watching a loved one move through the stages of a progressive cognitive disease, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, is painful for everyone, including the sufferer.
My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was in her late sixty’s. And two years later, with Lewy body dementia, a very progressive and debilitating condition that causes a decline in mental abilities, such as thinking, reasoning, and memory loss.
It was not uncommon for moments of total clarity to happen at unexpected times, almost like magic. As the disease continued to progress, I learned to cherish these moments of recognition and live in the moment with her.
It almost felt like we were playing a game. Sometimes we were time travelers, and I caught glimpses of my mother when she was a child back in school. Other times, I was someone else entirely. I was happy to step into her world, if only for a brief time.
One afternoon, my mother noticed her reflection in the mirror and asked, “Is that me?” As I stood behind her, I noticed that her eyes were clear and bright. She suddenly smiled as she stared at the reflection of the two of us. Even though she couldn’t remember my name, I am certain that she knew I was someone who played a significant role in her life. No words were necessary, and I believe it was her heart that still remembered.
Even though my mother’s brain had changed, she was still right here with me. She still had the ability to love, and the need and desire to be loved in return.
It’s difficult to imagine that your identity could be erased from your parent’s memory. But it is a cruel, predictable reality for those living with most types of dementia.
I have tucked away all those wonderful memories with my mother — especially those rare moments of clarity that were such a gift to us both.
She has been gone from this world for nearly eight years, but I have come to realize how important it is to love and to be loved. It is what makes life worth living!