Yesterday my husband and I popped in to visit Mom, bracing ourselves for what might come next. Lately she’s been living in another planet, complete with rules, visions, and accusations that I can’t connect to anything at all.
I used to roll my eyes at the people who said to go along with any crazy thing your parent with dementia might say. “It’s better to affirm their reality,” said the crisply dressed saleswoman who ushered me through one of the first memory care facilities I checked out.
Lately I learned that arguing with Mom about the existence of the dead man she thinks is lying on her bedroom floor or contradicting any other of her hallucinations or delusions is most ofen completely futile. Sometimes it comforts her for a moment to hear that I have a different, and much less scary understandingof reality, but that solace quickly fades.
So what does this have to do with dating?
Mom has been talking about a man, Stan, who she used to know in Pennsylvania where she lived most of her life, telling me he moved into her facility. She’s been obsessed with this erroneous discovery, and keeps asking me if I’ve seen him there.
So yesterday when we stopped in, she whispered, “That’s him,” pointing to a hunched, kind-looking, bright blue-eyed gentleman with a cane, who looked only remotely similar to the neighbor of her past, Stan.
“No Mom, that’s someone else,” I declared, somewhat annoyed, and knowing I shouldn’t be.
She looked at me like I was nuts and beckoned him over so she could introduce us.
“Stan, I’d like you to meet my daughter, Shannon,” she yelled.
“Excuse me,” he said softly, “what did you say?”
“Stan! This is my daughter, Susan!” She yelled much more loudly, to no avail.
The man who was not Stan ambled over as close to her chair as he could get without sitting on her. I didn’t mention to Mom that she’d called me by my sister’s name.
Mom repeated her yelling into his ear, and this time he heard her just fine.
“I’m Art,” said Stan, reaching out his hand to me. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Meg,” I said. “Nice to meet you too.”
I looked at Mom, who hadn’t registered either of her name errors, which was fine. She seemed satisfied that I’d finally laid eyes on the man she’d been talking about for weeks. I excused myself to use the bathroom, and when I came back my husband quickly pulled me out of the room, to my confusion.
“The minute you left the room, Art and your mom started kissing.” He stood there, smirking.
I felt my skin crawling inside, and was quickly ashamed at my horror, very aware that I was reacting like a teenager, or the kind of ignorant caregiver who thinks that older, disabled people should have no romance in their lives.
I’ve always wanted my mom to be happy and to have companionship, but what does it mean that she’s now making out with a man she thinks she’s known her whole life? And this right after recent medication changes have taken away most of her bearings on this planet? It felt creepy to me, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t find room to feel much of anything else.
I talked to some of the staff about it and they giggled, some commenting, “Go Carol Jean! Good for her!”
It must be nice not being the daughter, sometimes – when you can just share in the fun and not get all entangled in the rest. Foremost on my mind now was that in one of our recnet phone conversations, Mom had told me that “Stan” was still married and that his wife was also living in their memory care, which was another can of worms for me. Mom had pointed her out across the room, and I winced. She was a very nice lady who was still quite aware. How was this happening?
I talked to the staff about my concerns, and they laughed even louder. Not at me, but at the situation. “That woman is Enid, and she’s not related to Art in any way. He’s been widowed for years.”
So when my husband and I left, I at least had one concern off my chest.
Later that night Mom called me crying, saying that Stan had gone too far. She felt violated, taken advantage of, scared. She wanted me to move her into a place for women only.
I had no idea what that meant, or where her delusions might have entered in to turn Art into “that dirty old man,” as she was now calling him. My husband and I had a talk later on, and decided that from what we’d seen of Art, he definitely didn’t seem to have the strength or balance (not to mention the attention span) to do much more than kiss her, and neither of them had the hand dexterity to take even their own clothes off.
“Thank God,” I caught myself thinking.
I can’t deal with the thought of Mom having lover’s quarrels, boundary issues, date rape accusations, all of the wild and crazy things that could come of a sexual relationship with two people who can’t locate the border of reality.
I’m still pretty shocked at my reaction. I like to think that if this had happened a few months ago, when mom was running around town with me making sassy jokes and sarcastic remarks about her memory care that actually made sense, that I would be going right along with her romance. Especially if the suitor involved had some idea what was going on too.
Lots of judgments running through my mind that I thought was so open. Maybe there’s something about being in this already vulnerable caregiver role that has gotten me much more uptight than I ever thought I could be about such things. I want Mom to be as content as possible, and if kissing Art makes her happy, so be it. But as her scared phone call confirmed again, my mother has never been simple or content, especially in her interactions with men. They’ve always been filled with angst and communication issues. I don’t see that changing at this point in her life, but I could be wrong about that, and if she does come back to her slightly more lucid self, I’ll try to keep my mind open.