No matter where Mom is, she’ll talk to anyone. She’s always been that way. In the waiting room at the doctor’s office? She’s making conversation. Walking down the street? She’s looking to engage. God help you if you’re seated next to her on a plane and want to keep to yourself. She’ll get you.
She’s kind. She’s fun. And she genuinely likes interacting with people. It’s fuel for her. This used to embarrass me growing up. In general because I was always putting myself in her target’s shoes, but also because she’d inevitably find a way to work me into the conversation. Now I think back and laugh at it. I can’t fault her–I was her only child after all.
This got even more mom-barrasing when Lindsay and I started having a family. She had granddaughters now. If you were ever in a restaurant with your kids who were even remotely similar in age to Mom’s grandchildren, you could kiss your nice family dinner goodbye. She was going to play with your kids and tell you about mine for the entirety of your restaurant stay. There were so many cringe-worthy moments…but hey, it was part of the package. I love her for it.
With her dementia declining, Mom’s a different kind of social animal now. She still thrives on it and loves to tell me how much everyone at her community tells her she’s social and fun. I see it when I visit. A smiley “hello and how are you?” for everyone she passes walking around her community–but it doesn’t go any further than that. It doesn’t go any further because it can’t. Mom has trouble recalling the right words at the right times these days. Her wit is dulled and the laughs don’t come as free and easy. She knows it and you can see it on her face. Mom’s dementia look.
Like so many aspects of her fight with dementia, I’m so in the weeds that I don’t necessarily notice changes as they happen gradually. Instead I have these moments where observations become clear to me like a kick in the gut.
The most recent example came a couple of weeks ago when taking Mom and my grandfather-in-law (Papa) out for dinner. Papa is a piece of work–96 going on 76 years old–and he gets along great with Mom. We were having a nice time with lots of laughs, mostly about Papa politely giving our waitress crap about the menu (because it was expensive and didn’t include a cheeseburger), when in walks a very nice family of four. They were seated at the table next to us and the two little girls looked similar in age to my middle and youngest daughters.
This was a target rich environment for my pre-dementia mother. It would’ve been too easy for her. This kind looking family wouldn’t have any chance at family dinner without Mom being their 5th wheel. But on this night, she wasn’t trying to engage. She was watching the girls as they bickered over crayon colors and an iPad, but she wasn’t attempting to make conversation. Then I noticed the look on her face. It was somewhere between a smile and an I’m about to cry face. Mom’s dementia look. Seeing it crushed me.
I was caught off guard. Had I seen this before? How could I not have? It’s Mom’s dementia look. She so clearly wanted to engage these cute little kids who reminded her of her grandchildren. She wanted to make silly conversation with them….and just be social. She couldn’t and she knew it and it made her sad. So she sat and stared kind of blankly. It looked almost like she was trying to reconcile her new and worsening reality on the fly. Sad. I just wanted to hug her.
Not wanting to call attention to the situation I decided to wait on the hug until later. In the meantime, I shoved my inhibitions aside and struck up a conversation with the table next to us.
The smile that lit up Mom’s face as the little girl was describing what she was drawing was totally worth it.