“Mom, you just took your pills half an hour ago," Rosie worriedly exclaims as she hears her mother rattling the container. "What are you talking about? No, I didn't. What day is it today?
Rosie arrives in the kitchen in time to point out that the container is empty and inform her mom that it’s Saturday. “That’s because you didn’t fill it up. You’re just trying to make me think I’m losing my mind!” her mother replies with a condescending bark.
The difficulty of living with a parent suffering early-stage dementia is that they don't know they have dementia. They don't believe there's anything wrong with them. They think you're lying to them, and they will fight you to the death to defend their belief in the stability of their own mind.
"You're the one who's losing it," she screams.” “Well, I’ll have to grant her that one; I am bloody well losing it," Rosie bemuses. And she is, just not in the way her mother thinks. Bad jobs, bad relationships, bad health or just bad luck in general, nothing Rosie has gone through in life has prepared her for this.
She tells herself it's not that bad, and honestly, most times it's ok. Her mother’s memory, I mean. She still remembers most things, especially long term, and if she forgets that the picture they were looking at is of her niece, whom she hasn't seen in 20 years, who cares. She will remember when Rosie reminds her. No big deal.
Some of the short-term memory issues are not such a big deal either. Who cares that she ran out of towels because she keeps throwing clean, unused ones in the laundry, or that she's giving the cat treats for the 2nd time in an hour. It's just an extra load of laundry and a future diabetic cat, I guess. The point is it's not worth fighting over, although Rosie’s bank account may disagree.
Even before the diagnosis, this was a woman who did not like being told she’s wrong, especially not by Rosie. She sees it as an insult to her very character, an indictment of how she raised her. She is an old-fashioned Christian mother; how DARE her daughter argue with her. “Yes, I know, Mom. I'm going to hell".
It is a hard lesson to learn; one Rosie struggles with every day. Which hills are worth dying on? Stopping her mother from overdosing on her medication is definitely one. An extra load of laundry is definitely not. Knowing full well that no matter how gently she tries to remind her, no matter how understanding she tries to sound, there will be a fight. There are things forgotten every day. Most are inconsequential, so most times, she just smiles and reassures her Mom that it’s ok, that we all forget things.
When educated experts or social media pundits advise caregivers to NEVER argue with a dementia patient, there's one crucial piece of the equation that often gets overlooked. Caregivers are human too. We can try to follow guidelines, we can try to be patient and understanding, but sometimes we snap. Sometimes we burn out. Sometimes it's just too much.
When your brain doesn't shut down from the desperate thoughts you’re thinking, and you can’t fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning, being jolted awake at 6 am by your mother screaming at you that she is cold is too much. When your friend invites you out for a drink, but you can’t leave your mom alone all night, it’s too much. When you can’t work outside the home, when you can’t work inside the home without interruptions, it’s too much. When you have somewhere to be in the afternoon and have to rush home to get her dinner, when you can't enjoy a coffee with a friend or a beer with your brother, it’s too much. n
The bond between a mother and daughter is a truly remarkable one. It is sacred and unconditional. Although sometimes it may feel like she’s your worst enemy, when you’re at your point of greatest need, she will be your best friend. You may argue, you may fight, but she will always have your back, will always support you even when you feel like she doesn’t.
Rosie truly believes her mother wants the best for her, or at least she used to. She wants to believe that her mom has no idea what she’s doing to her, that she doesn’t understand how hard this is on Rosie. Sometimes she feels like her mother does know but just doesn't care. She hopes she’s wrong about that. It’s what makes it all so hard, the feeling that her mother just doesn’t care. Has she really gotten that selfish? Is Rosie the one who’s being selfish for even thinking that way?
There’s been so much tension, so much bitterness. Rosie honestly doesn’t know if there’s any love left in her mother’s heart for her. She knows she still loves her mom, she just doesn’t like her very much anymore, and it breaks her heart that she feels that way. Their relationship status has devolved from mother and daughter to patient and caregiver. Rosie gives her mother meals and runs her errands, but her mom never thanks her. It’s her job, it seems.
Rosie bought her mom's favourite juice and chocolate already and is on her way to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. She knows it's getting late, that she has to get home soon to put dinner in the oven, but there's only one more stop. She's lost in her thoughts when she pulls around the corner onto the main road and doesn't see the unending line of cars until she's in the middle of it. "Ah, shit," she mutters, "What the hell is going on now?" She looks around to see if there's a way she can get out of it, but there isn't. She’s stuck there.
As she slowly inches forward around the bend, Rosie can finally see what’s causing the delay. There’s a construction zone ahead. “Why the hell weren’t there any warning signs?" she yells to no one in particular. As she sits in her car, getting more frustrated by the second, Rosie starts sobbing uncontrollably. She's shaking and can't stop. She looks out her window, sees the guy in the car beside hers staring, then starts to laugh at herself. “This is it?” she thinks. Rosie has been through two failed marriages, multiple lousy jobs, and when she was 27, the devastating news that she would never be able to have children. Now here she is at 59, sitting alone in her car, having a meltdown over a traffic jam. A fucking traffic jam!
Rosie tries to gather herself, knowing there's nothing she can do but wait. The phone rings. She picks it up and looks at the display, and grins to herself sarcastically. It's her mother, of course. "Hi Mom, I can’t talk, I’m stuck in traffic." "Where are you? When are you coming home?" "Hopefully not long, Mom. I'll be there as soon as I can." "God Damn it," her mother snaps before hanging up on her.
As she drives around another bend in the road, Rosie can finally see the flashing amber light at the intersection. She’s getting there, slowly but surely. She stares, fixated, at the flashing light and likens her life to the traffic signal ahead. When will she see a green light in her life again? When can she move forward? How will she ever get away from the flashing amber? Will she be stuck at this intersection forever?
The only solution, the only way Rosie can see the light turn green on her life, is for it to turn red on her mother's. The tears start to flow again as the realization of what that means sinks in. Her heart is aching. She doesn't want her mother to die; she wants her to get better. Rosie knows that is not possible. It's not going to get better, only worse. As the monster known as dementia extends its cruel grip on her mother's mind, it will only get worse.
The traffic is moving again. Rosie is only five cars back from the intersection now as the flagger urges the line forward. One car... two...three... four. Of course, he stopped at her car. Rosie can only grin. As she waits for the next cycle, she starts to think again of her mother and the impossible predicament she's in as her full-time caregiver. The cycle is almost through. Just a few more seconds, and Rosie can finally get through this traffic nightmare. She'll soon be on her way home to start dinner. She knows her Mom will yell at her, that she'll be annoyed that dinner will be late, and find a way to make it all Rosie's fault.
She starts to cry yet again, knowing what's waiting for her when she gets home. It's almost time to move through the intersection, to leave this damn flashing amber behind finally. Rosie takes a look around, slowly raises her foot off the brake, and steps on the gas just as the 30-ton dump truck enters the intersection.
The screeching of brakes and scraping squeal of metal on metal drown out Rosie’s screams as the truck crashes through her passenger door. Rosie's mind is overwhelmed with a million horrific thoughts in the few seconds it takes for her car to be completely sawed in half. Why was he coming through the intersection? Why didn't he stop? Is she going to die? Who will take care of her mom? The flagger waved her through, Didn't he?
No, he did not wave her through. Rosie, lost in thought and looking through eyes soaked with tears, was mistaken. The flagger was still holding the stop sign when she pulled into the intersection.
Lying on the ground, staring up at the flashing amber light, and the reds and whites from the ambulances and fire trucks, Rosie again starts thinking of her mother. How is she going to make it home for dinner now? Who’s going to tell her mom that Rosie is not coming home today?
The colours are getting dull. The reds and yellows are fading. The only light Rosie can see now is white, a blinding white light that spans the horizon. She closes her eyes, knowing that she won't be jolted awake at 6 am tomorrow.
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