How in the hell did we get here? And what could I possibly do to learn from this and go forward, with her, as she became an alien in disguise of my mother, the worst kind of deceit.
She had been in trouble for some time, anyone could see that. I had quit my part time work and focused on researching, joining dementia support groups, defining my mode of attack because, by God we would be fine. No Mom of mine would suffer: we would be different, we would conquer and she would melt into a sweet but doddering new version of my beloved. Debra was the oldest, the smartest and most willing to drive the beast into submission. Failure was not an option I ever accepted, and would not begin now.
This night would alter everything. So far she had been able to sleep in her own room with me on Dad’s side of the bed so that I could be there for any stirring or fright she might experience. Mostly, she slept right through the night, maybe with one or two bathroom trips, no problem. On this night she awoke screaming. There was something at the foot of her bed that absolutely terrified her. Her face contorted, and gurgling in fear she fought to climb over me to escape the monster.
With some effort she recognized me and I took her hand and led her to the living room beside the wood stove, her haven, where she studied her Bible and held court with songs and tales from life on the road with a bus full of Texas Playboys. I offered juice, stroked her hair and succeeded in breathing slowly, encouraged her to do the same. In this moment of calm I left the room for a bathroom break and came back to hell. She was in the kitchen, sandwich baggie in hand, as she stuffed it with rubber bands, a fork, some salt shaken right in. I asked her what she was trying to do and she simply said she was leaving. Packing. Would I please grab her car keys and put them in the bag? I obeyed, grabbed another baggie as hers was already full of essential items. She added a couple of fridge magnets and her favorite cup. Her face, that face I knew better than my own was now thoroughly alien.
Suddenly she made for the door, and this being November, she in her nightgown without shoes she opened that door and headed out. I forgot all of my carefully learned dementia-management techniques so fast it alarmed me. I grabbed her arm and not too gently attempted to bring her back inside. She began to scream. She fought me, scratched my arms as I firmly held her and dragged her back into the kitchen. Now I was trying to kill her, steal from her. And then there was a knock at the door.
The sheriff deputy stood there, alerted by a neighbor that something was going on that needed attention. And my mother transformed herself into a perfect picture of calm. Yes, she said, my daughter is trying to kill me. She takes my money, she lives here without helping her with anything; please could you take her away so that she would be safe? I could see the deputy was conflicted and, lucky for me my brother was living just two doors away and came immediately. It took three hours to restore calm with the help of pharmaceuticals and soothing redirection. But this was only the beginning.
I always replay this scene in my darker moments of recollection. There would be no victories. My Mom’s journey would continue and I would mark each lower plateau with confusion and then acceptance. But it was this night that showed me more about her disease, this hideous transformer of little southern ladies into foreign creatures than anything else. This was the night she became a stranger. She showed me, that night, that my love for her was not going to make one bit of difference in the face of her madness. And onward we went, together.