I took Mom shopping this week to buy a present for Dad’s birthday, which is today, but first we had our nails done and went to dinner. We enjoy our girls’ nights when Dad goes to his support group for Dementia caregivers. This time Mom picked a different polish than she normally wears. The color was very similar to what she usually gets, but she wanted it because of the name…First Kiss. She giggled like a school girl.
Once we got to the shopping, she picked some shirts for Dad. I saw such a difference in her just since the last time we went shopping at Father’s Day. Then she was very much involved in the picking, but this time she didn’t seem to care what we got. I asked if Dad wore pullover shirts like the ones hanging on the rack. She said, “I don’t know.” I asked her if he wears lounge pants in the evenings and she said, “I have no idea what he wears.”
The shirts she picked out this time were not things Dad would normally wear and I found myself having to put the things she chose back and pick things I knew would work. It was important to me for her to feel she was the one making the decisions, but it is no longer important to her.
When we got to the birthday cards I wasn’t sure if it even mattered what card we got, but I was determined to read them to her so she could “pick”. You have not lived until you have stood at the card rack reading “To My Husband” cards to your dementia-afflicted mom.
The process goes something like this. I pick a card based on the picture/design on the front of it. I show it to her. She says, “That’s pretty.” I attempt to read the card out loud to her, through my tears. She says, “That’s good.” Not the response I am looking for. I pick another card and we repeat the process, until I can barely talk because I am trying not to sob.
Eventually, I found one with people holding hands on it that said, ‘Happy Birthday, My Love.’ It resembled a painting with a poem Dad got for her about growing old together. Her eyes perked up a bit. I read the words, and she connected to them, as I tried to hold myself together.
It’s the best feeling knowing there’s a strong, gentle hand that fits mine perfectly, and I have to do is reach out and take it to feel safe, warm, and loved.
She was oblivious to my struggle. She said, “That one is perfect. Let’s get it.” So, we did, and then we made our way to the anniversary cards since their anniversary is in five days. We repeated the process all over again. By the time we checked out and I got her home, my emotions were quite raw.
I see her so often I don’t think I realize she is still declining pretty rapidly. It is so subtle. But then when I take her out of her element, and the things that mattered just 3 months ago don’t anymore, I see the reality. To try to get her to engage and connect is getting more difficult, and it makes what Dad is doing on a daily basis even more clear.
Today is his birthday and I want to celebrate him, for who he has always been as a dad, but also for who he is now for Mom. It is amazing to watch him care so tenderly for her. I am proud of him and so blessed to be his daughter. It is hard to watch my parents age…but I am still going to celebrate every candle we get! Happy Birthday Dad!