For seven years, my father faded into the darkness of dementia. And while he struggled with the unreliability of his mind, his personality sweetened and his sense of humor grew. Despite many moments of misery, he was verbal until his final week. For someone who always had something to say, this was a gift.
After my dad passed away, my mom had three very good years. She surprised me with her easy going attitude: She was passionate for Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. She strongly supported gay marriage. She gave my daughters good relationship advice. And then dementia took center stage in her 90th year. It was cruel.
At first the dementia robbed her of her mobility—a woman who exercised daily and ate all the right foods, couldn’t coordinate her footing to support her body. Her world shrunk. But it wasn’t until these last months, when she truly lost her voice, that dementia did it’s greatest damage.
This week, her silence was deafening. And painful. Thoughts entered her awareness and yet the words came out garbled or forgotten. . Her eyes were pained. Her suffering was palpable.
My daughter watched in earnest as my mom sat with her lunch. She dipped her finger into her soup bowl and attempted to spread the soup onto a sheet of paper. “She wants to paint, mom…” but the motor skills and strength were gone. Even as my daughter tried to guide her hand across the paper, my mother gave up.
For the last 18 years I have worked with people who have dementia—I am not out of my element in being with someone in her predicament, but I have never seen someone’s face so full of sadness and betrayal. My mother--artist and political junkie--could say no more.
I share this sad scene not to depress, but to call to action anyone who can read these words. To shake you out of complacency-- if you find yourself there. To honor those with dementia.
I know I can’t reverse the ravages of what dementia has brought to my mother. So I take from this an awareness to be sure in my daily presence I use my voice—often and with gusto.
Because what would life be without expression—without a voice: without art, music, writing, story, movement, dance, sport…
So in honor of those who have lost their voices—far too many of our parents and grandparents: Find the loudest, boldest you.
Make your music. Create an echo…speak your truth. Dance. Kick it up. Let it flow. Relish in the fact that you can—because if you can, you must.
May you have lots to say and savor each moment that you do. Namaste’