Mum seemed very pleased to see me when I popped in today. I could hear her laughter as I signed the visitors’ book and I was greeted with the type of beaming smile which has often been absent recently. Conversation was stilted at best but Mum was attentive and even, at one point, asked me the time. I can’t remember the last time she posed any kind of question. I’m not sure why she wanted to know what time it was, and I’m not sure she knew either, but that’s besides the point. We smiled together, and I felt a warm glow inside. This was still my Mum in front of me.
And so, I was rather taken aback when Mum announced that she hadn’t seen Duncan for ages and doesn’t know where he is, adding that it didn’t really matter. That warm feeling had suddenly become an icy blast. Again I was reminded that though Mum recognises my face, she doesn’t seem to know why. She’s still my Mum but, to her, I’m not her son. When you’re the loved one of someone living with dementia, you have to be prepared for these little explosions.
So how do I you cope with it? To be honest, moments like this don’t really faze me any more. Any pain comes later – at the time, I go with it:
“No Mum, I’m not sure,” and a reassuring smile. The lines of a song came to mind: “Smile, though your heart is breaking.”
A few months ago, I might have challenged gently: “Oh Mum, what do you mean? I’m Duncan.” No longer. In some ways, it’s enough that the name Duncan still resonates with her. I’ll settle for that.
I hadn’t taken her a magazine today. In fact, one of the members of staff suggested that we should probably cancel Mum’s daily newspaper as she no longer shows any interest in it. So, after bringing Mum up to date with my few pieces of news, I turned, as I often do, to music. I worked my way through the music stored on my ‘phone and there weren’t many I knew would instantly appeal to Mum. I recently downloaded the soundtrack to the stage show “West Side Story” and chose “Somewhere”. Mum was immediately engaged and started to hum along. The words eluded her but the tune was there. Emboldened, I moved on. Soon Shirley Bassey was helping us to clamber up every mountain, albeit with the odd stumble. With the encouragement of a member of staff who was having her lunch nearby, Mum was able to recall many of the words and, urged on, tried to match Ms Bassey in the final chorus. Her face was a picture of pure happiness – Mum’s not Shirley’s. She would have probably been horrified at the competing duet.
It wasn’t like days gone by but it was special. Music has always been a part of my life and my relationship with Mum. So, I urged Mum to sing an encore and chose a song which was a vivid part of my childhood. As soon as the first notes sounded, Mum was away, head- nodding, and foot-tapping. The last time Mum and I had listened to “Bring me Sunshine” together had been as we left the church at the end of Dad’s memorial service. Then, it lightened the mood and made sure people left smiling, as Dad would have wished. Today, Mum and I sang along, almost word-perfect and though Mum was following my lead, there could be no doubt that the song recalled happy times for her. She sang all the write notes, almost in the right order and it was a lovely moment.
Those often seem few and far between but when they come, those moments are so very precious.