It wasn’t funny…
- When my mom was diagnosed with vascular dementia six months before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Remembering that when my uncle got diagnosed with dementia at a young age, my mom told me to kill her if she ever got like that.
- When I heard myself say out loud, “If Mom has Alzheimer’s, I’m taking painkillers,” and knowing I’d follow through on that threat even after 20 years of sobriety.
- When my stepdad’s memory issues escalated at a frightening rate approximately one year later.
And it really wasn’t funny…
- When we had to relocate them from their home of 20+ years to a retirement community.
- Only a few months later when we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to move my mom away from her husband to the memory care unit.
- When the dementia depression and darkness of addiction nearly got the best of me.
But ya know what, dammit? Some of the things that have happened along the way have been funny. Really funny.
And thus: One Brave Cowgirl was born.
Because I’ve tried things the other way. The “this is serious and crushing and nothing to laugh about” way. The deep, suffocating darkness way. The walking zombie “Is this actually my life and what have you done with my mom?” way. The denial way.
Until my friend said something to me that changed everything: “Hey, Carol…what if you accepted who your mom is now–with dementia–instead of mourning who she used to be? What if you stopped staying in the past, miserable, and instead found a way to accept the disease and be happy?”
And after I stared at her for a second, slack-mouthed, I chose happy.
That’s where it all started – with a decision to accept my mom “as is” – dementia and all. I slowly started to see things differently, and some of those things were damn funny. I gave myself permission to laugh when my mom said or did hilarious things. Like the time, out of the blue, she announced to my brother and me: “I think I’m pregnant.” Thinking she felt sick, I asked “Why?” She pointed to my brother and said “You explain it to her.”
And I’ve continued to give myself permission to laugh – out loud. Because when I laugh, I don’t feel panicked or afraid. My despair slips away. I feel better. Lighter. Hopeful. Hell, even happy.
You want some of that? That’s precisely what One Brave Cowgirl is here to give you: the chance to learn new ways to cope with your loved one’s dementia.
I’ve been accused a time or two of collecting degrees: I have 2 undergraduate degrees, a law degree and an MFA in Creative Writing. None of them prepared me for my journey with dementia. Well, maybe the law degree a little, since I did a lot of guardianship and elder law work. But that only helped me navigate through some of the paperwork, not the emotions. There’s no degree for that, as you well know. So I guess we’ll never graduate from Alzheimer’s University, unless they come up with a cure soon. Even then, we’ll still be living with the memories of the disease. For me, some of those are naturally heartbreaking. But in the past six years, I’ve been working at the graduate level.
Now I’m studying humor, acceptance, and gratitude.
But I needed those undergraduate courses – pain, suffering, trauma, anger and despair – to prepare me for that upperclassmen stuff. And I’d be lying if I said I never revisited those classes, but I try not to stay there. One Brave Cowgirl is us going to class together – studying dementia, studying life.
I’m not going to lie and say dementia doesn’t suck. It does. It’s a horrific disease and I hate it. But I refuse to let it take me down with it. So I’m battling back the only way I know how – with acceptance, gratitude and humor. Call that irreverent if you want. But so far? Irreverence is bliss.
I started this blog as a way to vent my frustration, to talk about my feelings, to chronicle how dementia has altered my mother’s mind and our family’s functioning. I realized that most of what I remembered, most of the things I’d written down – were funny. I mean, funny to me. Well, funny to other people, too. I’d come home from visiting mom, or would get with friends after a phone conversation with mom, and I’d tell stories – and we’d LAUGH.
That’s right: LAUGH. They’d say things like “that’s hysterical” or “that’s priceless” or “your mom is so funny,” and I realized: well damn, dementia can be funny.
You won’t ever see me making fun of my mom or stepdad (who also has dementia), or any of the other wonderful people they share space with at the memory care unit they live in. I love them deeply, and honor and respect them. But my mom was funny before dementia, and she’s funny now. Even funnier, sometimes, because the way dementia has rearranged her thought processes. So far, we’re able to laugh together. Only difference is, I remember the events, and she most likely does not.
I want you to think of this blog as a place you can come and rest and have a minute of “Yeah, this person gets me,” or “Hey, that was hilarious – thanks for making me laugh for the first time today.”
So that’s what we’re going to do here. Share. Laugh. Rest. Repair. Heal. Help each other battle one more day with dementia.