My mother has finally said – out loud – that something is wrong. On the phone today she told me she got confused, and knew that her forgetting wasn’t the ordinary kind. I have known it for nearly a year, pricked into considering it when she told the doctor my father had dementia and made him go to the hospital for tests.
Their doctor also tested Dad with comprehension and spelling questions. He’s dyslexic, undiagnosed in his youth, had to develop strategies for any kind of spellings. When asked to spell “would” backwards, he put an “r” in every time. R comes before D in words like those, he said. The doctor worked it out, and came back with clear results from all the tests – nothing’s wrong, you’re fine, and your memory is pretty good for a man in his 80s. Mum was disappointed. If the problem wasn’t with him, it might then be hers.
When they’d described the problems they’d had – things that had been forgotten, appointments missed, names confused – it was obvious to me that the common denominator was Mum. She had been unusually fractious when anything went wrong. Her normal need for complete control was challenged by her forgetfulness and confusion, making her angry and bewildered. How frustrating: to be in charge all your life, then lose it. No-one really knew what was happening, and those – like my Dad – who usually went along with Mum’s queening carried on as if she was still in control… which made her feel more anxious, I think.
She knows that not being in charge isn’t how she wants to live. At this stage of life, having never adapted to anyone else’s leadership or wishes, she is realising that the life she’s known will end. She doesn’t want a different kind of life. On the phone today she said she hadn’t long to live. I don’t think she means that she’ll die, more that the person she is, is disappearing, and will – sooner or later – stop.
She’s fairly healthy, though unfit, so her body may survive the loss of its familiar spirit. I wonder how long a physical human animal can go on being without knowing who it is?