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Dear Jo: Identity & Dementia

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April 24, 3 years A.B. (after-baby)

Dear Jo,

Today you visited Paul’s grandma in the nursing home. It’s so much easier to do that now that you have the distraction of kids. Now there is built in conversation. With her focus on the little ones, she doesn’t have to look at Paul and try to remember who he is.

Dear Jo: Identity & Dementia

Of course with having little kids in tow, it means there is more opportunity for them to make abrupt and honest observations. “It smells in here.” “That person is drooling.” “That food looks gross.”

You got there just as Grandma Bisset was finishing her lunch. She was happy to see you though you knew she couldn’t completely figure out who you were.

“Hi, Grandma. It’s Paul,” he said.

“I know it’s you,” she said. It seemed like she did, but by the time you got back to her room it appeared that she had already forgotten.

But that didn’t matter because her focus was on the kids. She wanted a hug from Emerson who thankfully walked up without much trepidation this time. You had prepped him in the van.

“Grandma will probably want a hug. If you don’t want to hug her, just shake her hand.”

Some days it is a hand shake, especially on her more difficult days, but today he went right in for the hug.

Then of course she wanted to hold Lyla. You had worried about her holding Emerson as a baby. You didn’t know if her frail eighty-plus-year-old body could sufficiently support his weight. You looked at Paul who encouraged you to put Emerson into her arms. The body you had doubted looked more natural cradling a baby than your own did. With a sleeping baby in her arms, she looked younger, more certain, more confident.

“What a beautiful baby. What’s her name?” she asked. You answered and she asked, “How old is she?” You’d answer that question only to have the entire sequence repeat every five minutes. It would always end with her saying, “She’s so precious. I miss having babies. Those were the best years.”

She seemed most lucid in those moments, most like herself, the woman you had met when Paul and you first started dating. She had been a farmer’s wife after being a farmer’s daughter. You had been raised in the generation where teachers and guidance councilors told you the sky was the limit; you could be anything you wanted to be. You were the generation of girls where it was assumed and even expected that you’d go to college. She had been of the generation where she learned to cook, sew and milk the cows from an early age. Her assumed role in life was to be in the kitchen, mothering the family.

You wondered if she resented her limited lot in life. You wondered if she ever wanted to go to college, to be something other than what was expected of her. You wanted to ask her, but you doubted she would know. So you just watched her. When Lyla began to fuss, you automatically reached to take her back, but Grandma simply changed her position and soothed her in less time than you could’ve.

Though there were many aspects and details of her life that were now lost in the haze of dementia, there were still these moments and roles that were as natural and persistent as breathing.

That’s when you thought of the bathroom mirror. Recently, you and Emerson were in the bathroom cleaning together when he looked at you and said, “Mama, I love you.” You looked at yourself and then at him. And you thought, “Am I really this kid’s mom?” A few years into this gig and you still have to remind yourself that he is in fact your child and that you are in fact his mom. You carried, birthed, nursed and rocked him, yet you forget that you are actually a mom…his mom. Perhaps you expected some sort of light-from-heaven moment in the delivery room when suddenly you would feel differently…like a mom instead of the selfish individual you were when you entered the hospital. But no light ever appeared. Angels didn’t sing. The skies didn’t open. You haven’t felt some overwhelming maternal ah-ha moment throughout the diaper changes, sleepless nights, temper tantrums or ouchie kisses, but maybe with a bit more time you will suddenly see yourself and think “mother.” Maybe by the first day of school, the first homerun, the first kiss you will finally feel it. Or maybe it isn’t a feeling that you should be waiting for, but an ever-evolving process. For now, you teach him words, colors, letters and labels. It seems ironic that he is more certain than you are about who you are…his mama. But in the meantime, maybe you can’t blame him too much for those few times he has spaced out. Maybe he’s just been figuring out who he is also.

You wonder if Grandma ever questioned her identity. Did she ever not feel like a mom? But you look at her and you think there is no way she ever experienced any of that. This woman exuded motherliness in a way that made you jealous. Here you had thought she would be jealous of your generation’s education and opportunities, yet she knew better than you and most of your friends exactly who she was and who she was made to be.

So when she said the baby years were her favorite years, you didn’t question her or whether this was something else that got lost in the dementia. What you did question is if you would ever say those same words and mean them.

Dear Jo: A {fictional} Diary of a Modern Mom

“Dear Jo: A Diary of a Modern Mom” is a serial fiction story written by Meagan Church. Stay tuned for the next diary entry of one mom’s attempt to chronicle what she has been told are the days she shouldn’t forget…spit-up, tantrums, milestones and all. Visit the Dear Jo page to catch up on the already-published entries. And, be sure to subscribe today, so you don’t miss a single installment:


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Motherhood Doesn't Come with Sick Days

{Photo credit: ©flairimages –}

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