There are a few things you need to know about my mom, our One Brave Cowgirl. First, she’d kill me if she knew I was writing this. (I know – that never stopped me as a kid either.)
Meet Mom. This picture is my prize possession. It’s mom as a teenage Lassoette, a member of the rope trick drill team at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas. The Lassoette Historical Society wanted to use this picture, but mom wouldn’t let them. That was about the same time she thought her neighbors were part of the 9/11 conspiracy. Yeah, dementia was making her paranoid, but we didn’t know that yet.
She’d watch the news and see reports about giant lizards and boa constrictors in the Everglades, and she’d call my sister and me and ask if we had those in our backyard. Never mind we lived at least 5 hours from there. Those beasts could travel, she’d say. We’d assure her we’d seen no such creatures, but she’d call at least once a week to check.
Now we know what was making her so paranoid. Dementia.
Before you get upset that I’m using the picture now and talking about my mom in general, let me tell you that in her right mind, before dementia (hereinafter to be referred to as B.D.), she would’ve been proud. She would’ve understood that talking about our journey with dementia would help others, and helping others is something my mom is all about. She loves to take care of people. Even now, she wants to feed the man at her memory care unit who can’t remember what a fork is. Even though she forgets herself sometimes.
She’d be thrilled to help with the emotional hornet’s nest that comes with the dementia family package. Dealing with dementia is like those old cartoons, the ones where the hornets swarm out by the thousands and zap some unsuspecting bear on the behind. You watch and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve done my share of crying, and I’m sure you have, too. But laughing is healing. And I don’t know about you, but I could use some healing.
That’s what One Brave Cowgirl is all about – making a decision to be happy, despite dementia.
That’s what my mom has done, and that’s what she’s taught me to do. You ready to laugh? Thought so.
Here are 10 things you should know about my mom:
- She hears like a dog. Don’t assume because she has dementia and is 78 she can’t hear. If you get in her face and yell, you’re going to be sorry. And if you’re talking in the next room, she’ll demand to know what you’re talking about. Be prepared to tell her.
- She hates scrambled eggs. And boiled eggs. It’s a texture thing.
- She’ll eat Jello only if there’s no other dessert option. Really, Jello isn’t a dessert. It’s hospital food. Avoid it at all costs. But if that’s all they’re serving, eat it and enjoy it.
- She’s a lot like Lucy on “I Love Lucy.” One of my first memories is watching Lucy reruns at 10 in the morning with mom and my little sister. We drank Cokes. Hey, it was the 60’s. I learned to laugh watching my mom and Lucy.
- She’s a saint; she’s not very nice (her words). This is fairly self-explanatory, but be forewarned. She’s a love until she isn’t. She’s frustrated and really angry sometimes, but I get it. Just wait it out, she’ll morph back to her saintly self before you know it.
- She doesn’t remember how to do rope tricks. Damn it all, I wish she did. Maybe I’ll put a lariat in her hands and see what happens. I may learn myself just to honor the memory of her as a spunky young cowgirl in Pee Wee Lucchese boots.
- When she can’t find her words, she blames her mouth. I love this tactic. Why not? Her face doesn’t work – it doesn’t spit out the words that get stuck between her head and her mouth. Give her a minute; she’ll usually come up with something. Go ahead and finish sentences for her, she likes that. She’ll tell you if you’re right or not. It’s like verbal Marco Polo.
- Her favorite nail polish color is “Cajun Shrimp,” aka orange. Who cares if she sometimes puts her pants on backwards? Her nails are done and they look amazing. Oh, and she doesn’t speak Vietnamese. But she always thinks those nail techs are trying to talk to her. She’ll let them know in no uncertain terms SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND. I guess speaking a foreign language makes one deaf. You know how it goes.
- She can sing most of a Baptist Hymnal from memory. Church was her life. She could play the organ and the piano, and sang alto in the choir. To this day, she’ll grab the alto harmony part. Sitting next to her in church, singing, always makes me cry. Even if church is the front room of the Assisted Living Facility. I love to hear my mom sing.
- She believes naps are a God given right. She has passed this belief system on to her daughters. I can’t speak for my brother. But naps are an essential part of being human. If she wants to sleep, let her. Wake her up at your peril.
So now you know our One Brave Cowgirl. Hang out with us for a while, and learn how she taught me to laugh, in spite of dementia.
I’m not going to lie, dementia sucks. As my mom would say, “DUH!” (Then she’d inform you that “duh” is NOT a bad word). Dementia is a horrific disease and I hate its guts (if it had guts) for taking my mom away in pieces. But I refuse to let it take me down in pieces.
Are you with me? Let’s battle back the only way I know – with gratitude, acceptance, and humor. But let me make one thing clear: I’m not laughing AT dementia, I’m laughing WITH it. Because some of the things that are said are hysterical. Some of the things that go on are as funny as The Three Stooges.
Some might call me irreverent for thinking this way. To that I say: irreverence is bliss.
There are over 35 million people in the world with dementia. If the average family size is 2.5 people (I never understood that half person thing), that means over 87 million of us deal with dementia on a daily basis.
To those of you who not only want to survive dementia, but also want to thrive in spite of it, welcome. You’re hereby granted permission to laugh. Because if you can’t laugh, you’re screwed.
I know. “Laughter is the best medicine” is a tired cliché. But clichés exist because they’re true. (Except for that one about having your cake and eating it too because that’s DEFINITELY not true, as my thighs will testify.)
Stick with me. I promise I’ll at least make you chuckle. And to laugh is to cope – cope as in thrive.
As Erma Bombeck, my mom’s favorite humorist, once said, “Laughter rises out of tragedy when you need it the most, and rewards you for your courage.”
I don’t know about you, but I could use some courage. And if laughing makes me brave, then sign me up.
READY TO LAUGH?
Join the League of Comical Caregivers. I’ll send you free updates. That way, you’ll always have something joyful to look forward to.