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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sadness of Dementia

Mom about 1949 wearing my new cowboy hat.

My mother, Geneva "Jeanne" Charbonneau will be 89 on March 20th. She has been in assisted living at Guardian Angel Homes in Post Falls, Idaho, for nearly six and a half years because she has dementia. She'd shown symptoms of dementia a few years before 2007, but it was her not knowing who I was when Jay and I came up from Wyoming for Mother's Day that sounded an alarm I couldn't ignore. Anymore, it doesn't matter whether she was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's or Lewy Body Disease or just plain senility. Seven years of her life have disappeared into the mist.

Her mother lived to be 97 and still had her wits about her when she died. Her dad was 84 and a complainer to the end. None of her brothers and sisters had dementia before they died in old age. Mom was the youngest and is the last of her generation of siblings and in-laws. But Mom's Uncle Gus had dementia in his eighties - the family figured it stemmed from his having been  run over by a team of horses in his 20s. The resultant head injury caused him to "go off his rocker" from time to time, wander away from his farm until the neighbors found him and brought him back. And then he'd be all right again. Until the last couple of years, that is.

Mom 1968

Mom had owned German shepherds since 1953; would walk them sometimes three times a day over 66 wooded and hilly acres. Exercise increases your life span, they say. Perhaps so, for Mom's heart keeps beating, though she can't speak or understand when spoken to, or walk, or even focus her eyes on me. Exercise didn't keep her from getting this awful end-of-life disease.

She deserved a good old age because her fifty years married to my dad, who was schizophrenic, had been  difficult and often unhappy. The marriage of my fictional couple in my novel A Devil Singing Small is based on their marriage. But as we know life is seldom fair.

I am filled with grief to see her as she is now -- a grief that continues month after month, year after year.  I go once a week to feed her lunch and to see how she's doing. She receives quality care and attention at Guardian Angel, which is another reason she is still alive.  I go because she's my mom. She was always there for me and so I try to be there for her. Happy Birthday, Mom.

Feeding Mom a bit of maple bar, always her favorite pastry