A Valentine for my Mother with Dementia

by Kathleen Duhamel

The nurse at my mother’s long-term care facility called me Tuesday night to let me know that Mom had fallen . . . again. She got up to go to the bathroom and didn’t use her walker, which she’s been instructed to do countless times. So she fell, spraining her wrist, and because she didn’t have the presence of mind to pull the emergency cord in the bathroom or the physical strength to get up, laid on the floor until someone came in to check on her.

Mom is 96, deaf, frail and suffering from dementia. My brother and I have lost count of the number of falls she’s had over the past few years. She’s gouged her leg, bruised her collarbone and broken her glasses. She’s been hospitalized at least twice, most recently last fall when she developed a urinary tract infection that had gone on for quite some time before she told anyone on the staff that she needed to see a doctor. By the time her problem was discovered, she’d gone into renal failure and we almost lost her.

She wasn’t allowed to return to assisted living after that incident, so when she was released from rehab her only option was the nursing home. Did I mention that she lives about 1,500 miles away, so it’s not like I can jump in the car and run over to see her? My brother is closer, but it’s still a half-day drive for him.

We’ve all but given up on trying to talk to her – she won’t wear her hearing aids because she claims she doesn’t need them. Yet she can’t hear the phone when it rings. I’ve explained to her over and over again that she needs the hearing aids so I can call and talk to her, but she forgets. Or refuses. I’m not sure what goes on in her head.

During one of the last conversations we had before dementia took over her thought process, she wanted to know why God wouldn’t let her die. Mom has outlived her husband, all of her siblings and her close friends. She lives in an environment governed by meal times and the few activities she still enjoys. Not much of a life, by any standard.

“I don’t want to be here anymore,” she told me. “I can’t understand why I’m still alive.”

I can’t, either. The loving parent who taught me to read, sew and cook; and who instilled a lifetime love of music and art; that woman is long gone, replaced by a shell of a human being with little of her personality.

When it comes to death, we treat our pets with more kindness and compassion than we do our human relatives. We can choose to end our dog or cat’s suffering, but people aren’t entitled to the same treatment. They’re warehoused and kept alive even when common sense tells us otherwise.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending Mom all my love and the hope that she will soon get her wish – to pass away peacefully with her last bit of dignity intact. She’s still my mother, even if she no longer remembers me, and she deserves no less.