This is the final of three extracts from an interview by Tom and Karen Brenner, which was published in two parts on Bob de Marco’s Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog:
What are some of the lessons you learned from your mother’s dementia that you would like to share with other caregivers?
Fundamentally, I learnt that mum’s journey was also my journey. As long as I chose to resist what was happening to her, the journey for me would be rocky, uphill and unpleasant. But once I surrendered to the process and accepted that we would be exploring a new world together, I found there was so much to learn.
The old rules of time, space, relationship and truth no longer applied. In their place were the gifts of learning to live in the present moment; seeing familiar people, places and things with new eyes; being able to shift identity (e.g. sometimes I was her daughter, other times she needed me to be her mother); and being released from the tyranny of accuracy!
I learnt that dementia is not simply a journey of loss. Dementia is like a process of erosion. Over time a solid rock may wear away and crumble into sand. And that same process of erosion may reveal a beautiful crystal that previously lay hidden in the heart of the rock.
Despite the memories and capabilities that fade away, the essence of the person remains. In mum’s case, some of the things that dementia wore away, like memories of hardship and pain, and the constraints of social expectations, allowed her to rediscover a sense of spontaneity and joy that we had not seen in her before.
And finally, dementia allowed mum to receive. Having served others all her life, at last she was in a position to be served. Dementia allowed us the opportunity to honour and care for our mum in ways that we would not have been able to had she remained ‘independent’ for the rest of her life.
I’ve come to think of these lessons as mum’s ‘dementia blessings’.