After working in nursing homes for so long, I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if I had dementia. It seems to me that for a lot of people with dementia, while many details of their personality are lost, what remains is the underlying emotional tone. Of course, most of the people I’m meeting are already too ill to be living at home, so I don’t know what they were like earlier in their lives. But I watched my grandmother grow increasingly confused over the last years of her life, yet retain certain essential elements of herself.
Grandma Lily didn’t count a visit to her apartment unless we’d eaten something, a nosh at least, and then went to sit on her plastic-covered living room couch. Once when I visited her in the nursing home, she insisted I join her for her lunch. We both sat on the edge of her bed and ate low-sodium matzo ball soup off her tray table, while I pretended to enjoy its unbelievable blandness. She told me her sister-in-law had cooked it in the kitchen. After the meal, I sorted through her flowers, discarding the dead ones and rearranging the others. I was about to take the wrapper off a silk flower when she piped up, “No, leave that on. It’ll stay better that way.”
I know some people with dementia who are perpetually happy, remembering nothing, but feeling optimistic about life in general. While I’d like to think that would be me, I’m not a perpetually happy person now, so how could I possibly be when reason forsakes me? I hope I’m not like the lady I know who wanders about on the dementia unit with a furrowed brow and frequent tears, wondering how she’s going to pay the bills. Given my occasional moodiness, perhaps I’d be similar to a woman who tried to hit me for no reason one day as we were passing in the hall and then the next day remarked to her son during his daily visit, “I don’t know who that woman is, but I like her a lot.” It’s most likely, though, because of my penchant for busy-ness (I sometimes have to put myself on sabbatical from beginning new projects), I’ll be like Rosebud, from my last post, fretting at 97 years old that I’m not accomplishing enough each day.