I recently watched a movie about a woman suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. Each of her caregivers handled the changes differently, yet there was a common thread that tied them all together… their frustration in not being remembered.
Each of the woman’s children would pepper her with questions like “What’s my name mom?”, “Don’t you know who I am?” and “Do you remember me?”
When the mother would look absently at each of them, searching their faces for some spark of recognition, they would become frustrated and stomp off. In hushed tones around secret corners away from their mother, they would say things such as:
“She is not my mother anymore”, “She is not the person I know” and “She is gone.”
What struck me as I watched these scenes unfold was the highly selfish and insensitive manner in which these children were willing to to discard the love their mother had for them simply because she did not recognize who they were.
The children knew who she was, and that is what should matter.
I have had family and friends change. Change their appearance, change what they do, even change where they live. I may have struggled with finding the once so simple commonalities we shared, yet this in no way equated to my not loving them.
I also know that as an infant and young child I couldn’t use words to express my gratitude for who my mother was and what she had done for me. I did not understand the basics of motherhood. How could I? I was less than 2 years old. Yet she knew me. She remembered the things that I needed and wanted. She loved me regardless.
Do we not owe our loved ones the same without holding feelings of resentment?
To KNOW someone and to LOVE someone is not the same as REMEMBERING someone. When Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia afflicts a person, striping them of the their most recent memories and ravaging through their history day by day, there will be things, places and people that they do not remember. The list of those things, places and people will increase with time and cognitive degeneration.
The person suffering will still KNOW you in a deep and fundamental way which they can no longer express. The person suffering will still LOVE you through the fibers of their being, just look different to what you expect. Yet the person suffering will not REMEMBER you in the way that you remember an old friend or a favorite vacation. Your remembering is found in patterns, habits and motivations that drive you to the next moment. For someone suffering, this function of remembering is gone.
But please don’t take it personally. It is not meant to be an attack on you or vindictive attempt at dismissing you. It just is what it is. It is what the disease does. Nothing more. So take this new perspective: The KNOWING, LOVING AND REMEMBERING now becomes your responsibility.
It is you that can do the KNOWING: sharing stories of days ago that you recall with such fondness. It is you that can do the REMEMBERING: holding their memories for them when they slip through the vulnerable hands of a person that can no longer grasp them. It is you that can do the LOVING: showing love in any way you can, through song, story, prayer or embrace.
You will find, in time, that the LOVE will be there for you too. And it is through this you will know: She is your mother, she is the person you know and she is not GONE.