As I’m heading to visit my mom, I am suddenly flooded with memories. This happens from time to time when I’m due for a good cry. They’re not the warm fuzzy memories from when I was a little girl when I would beg her to take me with her when she went food shopping late at night while I was in my pajamas. She’d scoop me up, throw a blanket on me and in the shopping cart I went. Just her and I. Or how we’d sit and sip coffee in the mornings together (I’d smoke my Capri cigarettes) in the kitchen when I lived at home and everything was “normal”. No. These are memories from when she first started showing real signs of her *dementia. Memories that make me tear up and remind me of how sad and difficult that time was. Memories that make me mad at me for not responding better–for not understanding better–when we still didn’t know what was wrong. I hate, and I mean I fucking hate, those memories. They’re the type of memories that, when I recall them, I have to take a deep breath and tell myself, “Forgive yourself, Lauren. It’s okay, you didn’t know better.” That is the truth. I didn’t know. No one knew. Had I known then what I know now, my reactions, anger and sadness wouldn’t have manifested the way that they did.
You can become frustrated during the early stages when you don’t know what is wrong with your loved one. I remember a time that I really wish I could forget but, I believe deep down somewhere, there is a lesson to be learned. A few years back, right before I left for a trip to Colombia, I was outside of a therapist’s office with my mom. She couldn’t articulate or verbalize her feelings or thoughts. (I know and understand this now.) I thought she was being cold and was mad at me for something. Who knows what. I screamed, “Would you even care if my plane fucking crashed and I died?!” She finally said, “I love you, Lauren.” I can still hear her voice in my head, the exact way she sounded. That was all she could say at that moment. I nearly lost it. I was so happy, mad, confused and scared. You name it. Then, of course, I was certain I jinxed myself and now thought my god damn plane was going to crash. Good times. I saw a dear friend right before I left for that trip and I was in a bad way. She told me to go home and scream into a pillow and beat the shit out of it. I love her for that. Another friend I went on that trip with talked me through so much anxiety (on her vacation, mind you), and saved me from going to the dark side. Hooked me up with a couple Xanax to top it off. Trust me, I needed it. It’s funny how life is. It really throws some shit at you and then, just to fuck with you a little bit, it gives you some of the most precious gifts in life. Friendships. Hugs. Family. Nature. Adventure. And, most importantly, the good memories to fall back on. Don’t worry, I intend on sharing an entire post of my most cherished memories I have of my mom.
I once read something from the Dalai Lama about grieving and pain. In his book “The Art of Happiness”, he discusses with his readers that it is human and part of life and living to experience the pain of grief and loss. I often experience that pain. It’s a hurt that lingers because she is still here with us, but she’s also not. What they say about this disease is true–it’s the friends and family of the loved one who hurt most. Fortunately for the person with dementia, they reach a point where they don’t realize what the hell is going on. About that lesson I mentioned earlier, I think I know what it is: as humans, when faced with pain and grief, we sometimes do or say things we may regret down the road. I suppose that is what the Dalai Lama is prepping us for –no matter what, you, me, that super rich, beautiful lady shopping in Neiman Marcus, that homeless man down on the corner; we’re all going to feel grief. How we allow it to manifest within us will ultimately affect our growth and will play a role in how we emotionally evolve as time goes on. For me, it has opened up an entire part of my mind and heart that I didn’t even know existed. My mom’s illness has given me a new level of compassion, patience and understanding for those around me. Like most, I still get frustrated from time to time, but I don’t dwell on things or let them simmer as much as I used to. I have learned to move on sooner rather than later. To cry when I need to cry. And, perhaps most importantly, to forgive myself. To strive towards that, even if I need to chip away a little at a time, I need to forgive me. Grief is one thing, guilt is another. I need to let that shit go.
*Dementia is a real bitch.
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