Photo: group of women sitting around a table, smiling

I’m Only Rachel Sometimes

Not too long ago, my grandma started referring to me as “Mom” when I’m not around.

Photo: Barbara, at left, as a little girl, with her mom, at right, dressed up for Santi-Cali-Gon

At first, it freaked me out. But the more I thought about it, I became okay with it. Think about how your mom makes you feel. She makes you feel safe, loved, and important. I know that her calling me “Mom” sometimes is just a manifestation of that love feeling we have for our moms.

When she was in the hospital for a blockage, she relayed something I had said to her over the phone, but to hear her tell it, it was my uncle Kenny who told her.

My uncle Kenny was cheerful and wild and everyone loved him. Everything about him was loud and extreme. My uncle Kenny could make you feel like you were on top of the world, and he could also make you feel like WWIII was on the horizon. It’s no wonder sometimes when I get fired up, she likens me to my unk.

When these things started happening, I knew it was no longer safe to assume that she knew just exactly who I was.

Well, it finally happened. Last week, my grandma didn’t recognize me for the first half hour I was with her. Just today, she recognized me at first and then a couple hours later I was someone else. They tell you it will happen, but you’re never fully prepared for it.

If you have been following me on social media, you know that my grandma’s long term care insurance claim was accepted recently.

Photo: group of women sitting around a table, smiling

My friend, Julie, runs a company that helps people with developmental disabilities that have Medicaid waivers self direct their supports. We leveraged her system to carry out the same model of support at Grandma’s house. Being the kickass provider she is, of course wanted to meet Gma and get to know her better. So we devised a plan to invade bingo at the senior center my Gma frequents. Julie’s upbeat spirit infected the table and before you knew it, we were all laughing and smiling and applauding the bingo winners.

The next day, Gma recounted her day as if I was never there. She said, “Those girls sure had a good time with us!!!” I just nodded my head and said something like, “It sounds like you all had fun,” but inside, my heart panged and I could feel the tears rushing to the surface.

It is both heartbreaking and hilarious to me that this is happening. My ego tells me nobody could ever forget who I am. The pragmatic caregiver in me relishes in the fact that I can be someone else sometimes.

Yes, I know my grandma has dementia.

Yes, I know that it means that she might not always know who I am.

Yes, they said this might happen.

Yes, I know I am ignoring completely rational reasons and basic scientific explanations for what was happening.

Yes, I know I may have spent entirely too much time perseverating on this.

The more I thought about it, something occurred to me. I couldn’t help but ask myself: Does she not remember that I  was the one at bingo because “those girls” were bubbly and cheerful and happy to be with her? I realized maybe I needed an attitude adjustment.

After all,

Those girls’ infectious attitudes made Grandma feel good and made bingo special for her that day. They came there just to be with her and have a great time. Maybe I should be doing a little more of that.

So now, instead of getting in my feelings and spending so much time dwelling on the fact that my grandma is losing the ability to recognize who I am, I am working on spending time focusing on what we do have- which is precious time together and infinite opportunities to experience joy. I want to appreciate the fact that I am becoming a special blend  of all the people in her life who have loved her and made her feel safe and secure. I’m looking forward to seeing who I will be tomorrow 🙂

My perspective on dementia has been influenced greatly by the work of Judy Cornish. For great information and strategies on coping with dementia, get her books The DAWN Method and Dementia With Dignity and follow her on social media.