I certainly identify with him lately. I’ve been walking around with my paws up, saying to dementia put ’em up, put ’em up while I growl and prance. Well, ok, I haven’t growled or pranced…not much anyway.
Yeah, that’s me: not afraid of nobody, no how. Until dementia punches me in the nose and I burst into tears, crying Whadya do that for?!
I sat in my chair this morning, drinking coffee and watching the sun come up, and said over and over: laughter makes you brave laughter makes you brave laughter makes you brave. Because I so wanted to be brave, but I felt so incredibly cowardly. This dementia demon means business, and sometimes it comes at you like a troop of flying monkeys. And there is NOTHING scarier than that.
Sometimes I do great dealing with those uniform-clad beasts. (Who knew a fez and rick-rack could be so terrifying?) I take it in stride. I understand and accept the new normal. I know that there are good days and bad days. I get the disease process. I know deep down to my core that some Power Greater Than Myself will see me through, and keep me sane.
But this weekend? Hell no. This weekend I cowered and ran. I stayed in my pajamas for two days. Literally. I slept; I read; I watched a crazy movie. World War Z: that’ll make you grateful for whatever your present reality is, because it does NOT involve zombies making Jurassic Park sounds.
Dementia beat me up this weekend. This end-stage stage my Mom is in now — I really hate it. Not that I didn’t hate it all. But I REALLY hate this: the sleeping all the time, infrequent talking, having to be fed sometimes stage. It’s kicking my butt.
So I made lots of phone calls. I asked lots of questions. I reached out. I let my guard down, and was (gulp) vulnerable. Oh, how I hate that.
Because, like the Cowardly Lion, I like to be perceived as strong. But we all know the story…once he confessed to Dorothy (after being slugged, I might add) that he was really a big chicken, he got invited to the party. He got to skip down the yellow brick road, holding hands and laughing with all the other broken souls, to claim his courage.
So how do we stay brave in the face of all this sadness? I don’t have a clue, but I do know that laughter helps.
And so it was this weekend, during one of my distress calls with my sister-in-law. She’s told Mom for decades, when she gets ready to leave and go home, that she has to go feed the dogs. It became a sort of a joke between them. Anytime she’d announce she had to leave, Mom would quickly add: to feed the dogs.
Even in memory care, when given the question: Why am I leaving? Mom has faithfully answered: to feed the dogs. Except yesterday. This time, when asked the age-old question, Mom (from her wheelchair, eyes closed) loudly answered: WOOF WOOF WOOF!
My sister-in-law said everyone there burst out laughing, and even Mom cracked a smile. And me? I belly laughed when I heard it.
Mom’s favorite humorist, Erma Bombeck, said:
“Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.”
So what if she couldn’t recall the word “dog” or the exact phrase “to feed the dogs.” She knew the game, and she wanted to play. She wanted to make us laugh. God love her for that.
I don’t know about you, but I need courage to face this disease. What it’s doing to my Mom is terrifying. I feel like a kid whistling in the dark sometimes, but laughing does make me feel better. It makes everything, even THIS, more tolerable.
It breaks the sadness spell, if only for a second. Take that second and catch your breath. In that second, laughter gives us enough hutzpah to face another day with dementia. That’s the hope laughter gives us.
And if hope isn’t reward enough, how about a complete make-over and a courage medal?
Now we’re talking.
Repeat after me, until you feel as brave and strong as a coiffed lion with a red bow in his hair:
What makes the muskrat guard his musk? COURAGE. What puts the ape in apricot? COURAGE.
Damn straight. Buck up, we’ll get through this together.