The sun is shining brightly outside my car window as I wait at a traffic stop. The sky is a clear blue, the weather a perfect warm; an apt temperature for summer plans; family outings — beach, BBQ, picnic, and the likes.
For us, in the car, however, it is quite the opposite.
The air in the car is sullen and quiet. I try to make the occasional conversation with my Mum on the back seat, but her replies are in monosyllables. My wife Jess; beside me on the passenger seat, sits silently, mostly in thought, making an occasional comment or a random question to Mum.
So, even though the world outside our car window is the perfect temperature for fun and frolic, we in the car are solemn and tense, unsure of our destination ahead and how things will unfold.
Within a year of diagnosis, my Mum's Dementia progressed to unmanageable, with my kind and benevolent hearted mother becoming paranoid, aggressive and irrational. Some days; when Mum is her lucid self, she is much easier to deal with, but those days are now far and few. Today seems like one of those days; with her seemingly calm, composed and subdued, however still timidly retreated into her internal world of disillusionment.
Jess, myself and our kids Reese and Luella have given Mum, our love, and support through her most difficult of phases. But as her symptoms worsen, it has inadvertently festered, filling our once cheerful house with anger and resentment.
Dementia; although a condition diagnosed to a single individual; in reality affects an entire family, bearing down on the threads of its relationships, unraveling it at its seams wearing it thin and as a result exhausting and depressing each and every person within it. Yet, our family strived through it for the love of their mother and grandmother, but last week's ordeal was what sealed the deal to today's excursion.
A few weeks ago; unknowingly to anyone in the house, Mum wandered out the front door, leaving us with the mental and physical torture of frantically searching the streets close by looking for her. Thankfully, Luella spotted her just in time boarding the town bus and getting her off was an ordeal in itself with Mum being aggressive and non-cooperative.
The incident thus sealed the deal to placing her in a care facility; as her doctor had suggested a long time ago.
So; here we were, on our way to an extensively researched care facility for Mum. Oblivious to our destination, she sits in the back seat, somber and quiet. My stomach has been hollow since the time I awoke and my heart heavy with an unbearable ache coupled with the feeling of guilt from what I have set out to do.
I look out the window of my passenger seat beside Dom, not really registering anything that we cross. I cast a glance at Dom to make sure he's okay, he has been pensive and absent-minded all morning, going about the house placing things in places that don't belong. It isn't easy for him, what we do today, but he has finally accepted it as the inevitable solution.
They're relationship has never been an easy one; bordering more on hostility, since Dom's Grandmama had essentially raised him, with Stella being an absent mother for most of his growing years. She worked in another state; supporting them — something she never let him forget. Yet, Dom always felt abandoned, feeling she could have done more to keep him closer to her. This difference in opinion brought with it a lot of animosity over the years.
But despite their strained relationship, Dom never waivers from his obligation as a son. He still cares for her and wants to tend to her despite the hardships the family faces with her condition. So, he mentally struggles with having to see the people he cares for pitted against each other.
The kids; although understanding of her, find it difficult to be objective when Mum spews aggressive tirades at their parents when in one of her moods. I, too, feel similar to the kids when she verbally attacks them, but being the adult aware of my husband's predicament, I advise them to be more sympathetic towards her, although most days it is increasingly difficult to justify.
My relationship with her as well has always been a very prickly one, with her never approving of Dom's choice for a wife. Yet; at this time in her life, I feel sorry for her. Stella has always been a strong and independent woman; making lemonade with all the lemons that life threw at her. She faced her obstacles head on and never abandoned her duty as a mother, albeit believing that financial support was all that a little boy needed from his mother.
So now, when she needs the assist, I try to help and make things easier for her where I possibly can.
I watched her earlier at breakfast, relishing the meal I made her. She dressed in her favorite; a floral summer dress, one that she usually keeps for special occasions. Smiling and mumbling to herself, she sat eating the meal in front of her, looking content and ready. It was almost as if she was prepared and anticipated what was going to happen. Dom on the other hand feels torn and guilt stricken, wanting to support Stella as a son, yet divided between tending to her and providing a stable and peaceful environment for everyone — including Stella.
I awoke this morning feeling like my old self again — strong and confident. I saw the packed bags at the corner of the staircase and I knew. I am not certain if Dom spoke to me or not; these days I am not too sure of anything I do, say or see. But I have no anger or resentment in my heart for anyone. Dom has given me love and patience to my heart's content, more than I gave to him, more than I deserve. I have always loved him, but in my effort to provide the best to him, I forgot that all the world's love and affection falls short compared to that of a mother's, which unfortunately my Dom never got enough of.
Unknowingly and unintentionally sometimes, I give this beautiful family a tremendous amount of grief and heartache. Despite all the things I remember saying and doing, Jess and the kids have nevertheless opened their hearts and patiently accepted all my flaws.
I sit silently eating breakfast saying a little prayer for this large hearted family. I devour my scrambled eggs and baked beans on toast; Jess knows it's my favorite, and then secretly look around the house and the people that live in it and silently thank the Lord for showing me such love, short-lived as it may have been.
As we drive to our destination, I sit silently in the back seat watching the people passing by. Dom takes a turn, and we pass a familiar street and suddenly, I have a recollection and I remember where I was going the other day….
I am driving deep in thought when suddenly Mum hastily calls out to me as she somehow recognizes the road we are on. It was the road leading to my Grandmama's house; the one I grew up at, where Mum grew up at. She softly requested if we could go there; her pleading eyes speaking a thousand words. So, I agreed and quickly made a U-turn back to the lane.
Grandmama was no longer alive, but the house she lived at still stood. It was a shell of a house now, weathered down by years of degrading wood and bricks. We were meant to sell it away but were never really able to get it done.
Mum stepped out of the car staring at the structure, her face lit up, and her eyes glistened with tears. She slowly made her way up the steps onto the porch. Jess found the spare key we kept under a rock and quickly let us in.
Mum wandered the house in a daze, she had a look of happiness and contentment on her face. She seemed distant, as though she was far away, in a memory. As she came back to the front where we waited, she slowly turned back towards the house again, whispered softly and said "Bye Mama”. Then she slowly turned to face me again, touches my cheek with her palm, smiles and with a sudden emergence of her lost confidence says, “Ok Dom, come let's go, I'm ready.” And with that, she makes her way to the front door.
As I watch Dom and Jess walk to the exit of the care home, I feel renewed and grateful. Dom turns to smile and wave, I can see him looking torn, so I smile a smile that emits what I truly feel.
A sense of satisfaction, contentment and pure happiness. Dom took me home to meet Mama one last time. I made peace with the demons that lived in me all these years.
“I'll come to see you soon Mum, I promise.” were Dom's last words to me. I knew he would, just like I knew that things would now be okay for all of us.