Mum was wading through the beginnings of dementia, unbeknownst to anyone*.
Then my Dad died (pre-cursored with great suffering… also unbeknownst to us… there’s a pattern here).
Then, right after my Dad died, my Mum’s dementia suddenly went through the roof.
You’re probably thinking, ‘Well it would, wouldn’t it? Poor soul’.
Well, we weren’t expecting this turn of events at all, given that the passing of the person in question should’ve heralded a sudden and unprecedented bout of freedom, once all the expected rites of mourning were over.
Alas: Mum didn’t proceed to secretly rejoice and then fall in line behind the wailers and moaners, schadenfreude, freed from a life-long spell of bizarre miseries and garden-variety abuse. No. In fact as far as she was (and is) concerned, my father had not died (he’d love this assessment!). There was therefore neither need for mourning nor wailing nor even for illicit euphoria. Mum navigated the whole thing more or less the way she would navigate a routine dental scaling appointment. No tears, No fuss.
What she did recurringly betray though, was this idea that sooner or later Dad would come home from work, to resume the rest of the day’s decision-making (as was perpetually his wont). Sometimes she would eerily embody him, harshly admonishing folks for harmless actions, according to some internal model of his preferences. It didn’t then, and hasn’t now, generally mattered how many times we’ve said “look – he’s dead. He’s not coming back. You can do whatever you want now“.
Listening to my Mum talk these days, in her current mentally deteriorated state, is like listening to a Savant: a seer of past, present and future. A knower of all things. A connectrix into all possible dimensions, struggling to convey the infinitudes and simultaneity of some vast reality into our paltry 4 dimensions of understanding. Her sentences are like confused, meandering koans waiting to bless the perceptive with zen-like enlightenment. And then sooner or later she is sorrowful. And when she is sad… then, I tell you, then, she is coherent as fuck. No mincing of words. Clear. Crystal. Direct. Efficient. And then on to the next rambling impossibility….
I was not expecting this.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often described as things that happen quite by chance (like lightning strikes), afflicting their poor victims out of the blue. An “It could happen to anyone” event, genetic proclivities notwithstanding.
Well. A thing that can happen to anyone, ought to have about it a sort of carefree, wanderlust pattern to its disruptions, shouldn’t it? You expect it to flit through the minds it ravages like a mischievous imp: gleefully de-coupling neuronal networks and dancing a Can-Can through stacks of memories the way kids kick through piles of autumn leaves. It should leave a trail of such wanton, chaotic destruction that given a sequence of queries of such afflicted minds, what you should expect to get is the static-y white noise of evenly-distributed gibberish.
What I’m getting instead, with my Mum, is a highly coherent signal that is completely consistent with itself, even if completely at odds with the rest of shared reality.
OK, OK. Admittedly, brains have something a smidgen holographic about them, so they don’t just crack. They degrade. They keep on cobbling together shittier and shittier simulacrums of ‘self’ when under attack… but generally, you’ll still get a self, Jim. Just not as you know it.
I no longer think of dementia as a mischievous imp that moves with reckless abandon. From where I’m sitting, it rather seems like a grizzled mage: something that calls psychic wounds unto itself, and nurses them, without judgement. The thankless task of uncovering those most indelible of memories… the ones that scar souls … and then setting them free after breaking whatever biochemical sigils had held them more or less at bay, till now.
Free at last.
Free to attempt the work of memory-making and sense-making. To connect. To story-fy. To give context. To add nuance. To give rise to. To enfold in metaphor. To maintain those links to actual lived experience. Because… well, because never forget. Never, ever forget.
Bad nodes, trying to do good work, set free on crumbling neuronal infra.
In every bizarre twist and turn to the stories my mother weaves… the loins from which each such fantasy springs, are the actual lived events and patterns of her life. Anyone of us (her children) can attest to that. I would go as far as saying that it is not just the facts but the acts of her life, that have brought her here, as much as anything genetic. They map so neatly onto the recurring micro-behaviours we see now, and her pre-occupations are rooted in concerns held over from yesteryear. The narrative arcs in her conversations and even her characters’ dialog – what she says people said – are made of quilt-stitched scenes from that earlier, grander play.
I write all this to say 4 things, dear random reader who may have stumbled onto this blog:
- Today’s recurring, consistent, un-resolved stressors are tomorrows (mental) health problems, and
- Trauma is biochemistry, and
- Character is outcome, and
- Dementia, Alzheimer’s etc. don’t just present an opportunity to blithely forget aspects of reality. Turns out they can (especially when complicated by other factors – like Agitated Depression in my Mum’s case) … they can also be a strange way to re-remember and re-live aspects of reality .
They don’t tell you that on those web one point oh government health websites, do they? No. I don’t suppose do.
Afterthought: Also, this feels a tad Roscoe’s Basilisk–esque: What if this is a mind’s way of punishing all the environ sapients, who witnessed its torment but whom did nothing to intervene, even though they were capable of conjecturing that with sufficient time, this would surely have to be the outcome (deterioration)?
*One day I’ll write about how and why we missed all the signs… Then again, I might not.