Tag Archives: dementia

a sign of the times

Only now, well into November, are we starting to feel the chill of Fall in the desert. Long nights descend, and although full of sunshine and 80 degrees, the days are short, and temperatures quickly plummet under the heavy blanket of darkness. At high noon in the warm sunshine, it can be easy to forget when and where we are in our path around the sun. Not fooled by the heat, the fig tree hears the silent call in waning daylight.  Her brown leaves flutter to the ground and remind me, the native Midwesterner, that yes, Autumn is here.

I had different signals in my childhood, and one of them was freezing my ass off at the bus stop every morning after about the third week in September.  But if that wasn’t enough of a hint,all I had to do was look at my grandmother’s door.

She was not a devout person in a religious sense, but she believed in corn. Every year she hung dried ears of corn to mark the season, the colorful kind commonly referred to as Indian Corn before such titles were considered potentially offensive. She hung it on the door to her double wide when I was a young girl, her apartment when I was a bit older, and in the hallway in her assisted living facility when I was older yet. Year after year, despite her changing circumstances, the corn reappeared.

Last year at this time, my mother had been discharged to hospice.  She was dying, and it was the last autumn she would ever know.  Her legs were swollen with fluid and she walked with a wide, awkward gait.  But she pulled out a managed to pull out a trio of colorful ears from a storage box and waddle out the front door.

“What are you doing?” I cried.

“Hanging some corn” she replied.

This year my mother is dead, and my grandmother is plunging deep into her dementia in a group home in Sun City.  She doesn’t have a door to hang her corn on; she doesn’t remember this old habit that was part of her annual routine for decades. Fall is here, and for the first time in my life I want some corn for my front door.  A thread to tie through the generations, despite being severed by illness and death; an organic symbol of where I came from.


the last straw (aka my mental breakdown over football tickets)

I woke up on August 29th, my mother’s birthday, feeling calm.

I meditated.  I sipped tea.  The world looked beautiful.  The sadness in these moments were trumped by a feeling of gratitude, and amazement at the world that produced such a kind and lovely soul, and I was lucky enough to call her Mom.

It was also the anniversary of my first date with my husband, and I wanted to focus on the positive on this day.

Then, I tried to buy football tickets.

See, I work for a healthcare organization that is a huge, multi-limbed animal.  Being located in a college town, this organization has an annual tailgate party before one of the games.  Think private tent, hot dogs, tshirts, etc. Its fun.  Tickets have historically sold quickly, so I think the strategy this year was to make ticket-buying as inconvenient as possible.  Or maybe it was just terrible planning.  Anyway.  Said football tickets were supposedly being sold at an administrative building some distance from my house.  I fought traffic to get there prior to the advertised 8am end-time for ticket purchasing.

I got there before 8.  It was abandoned, nobody in sight.  It either ended early or never started to begin with.  A kind secretary picked up the phone, and a disembodied voice said they would start selling again at 5:30pm.

Irritated, but convinced not to let my mood go completely south on an important day, I drove off to work.

During my lunch break, I called Grandma at her new residence, a group home for individuals with dementia and other heath care needs.  She had moved in about 5 days prior, but due to a comical series of events I hadn’t been able to speak to her until the 29th.   It was great to hear her voice, until it wasn’t.  In her demented anxiety, she was verbally abusive. She told me that I was boring, that she didn’t want to talk to me at all. Maybe mistake number 1 was reminding her it was her daughter’s birthday.  I don’t know.  It most certainly had nothing to do with me, but it was hard to let go.

I wiped away my tears and went back to seeing patients.  It becomes a little bit like acting sometimes.  You might be breaking on the inside, but you must push the emotions aside so you can smile, nod, be present to someone else’s needs and problems.

So, I finished up my work day with a forced smile and drove back to the administrative building to once again try to buy football tickets.

Locked. Dark.  No way to get inside.

I waited around in the heat for a while, hoping someone would leave through a locked door but no luck.

I slammed my hand against the gate.  Fuck Fuck Fuck. I kicked the gate too, for good measure.  But it stayed locked.

I raged against a world that was set against me from buying football tickets, that makes people too stupid to organize a tailgate, that clogs up traffic and makes you sit in your car, in the sun, going nowhere.  A world that locks doors, that looks at what you desire and doesn’t blink when she tells you “no.” The same shitty place that took my mom too soon and my grandmother too late.

I arrived home, on what was supposed to be a date night with my husband, tear-streaked and shaking.  “Don’t worry about the tickets” he said. And he took me to the one place I could go.  The ashram.  We indulged in a delicious vegetarian buffet.  Chant piped in quietly over the trickling of a fountain while parrots squawked in their cages.  The air was perfumed with incense. After my emotional outburst, I once again sipped tea and felt calm.  I circled back to where I started. I once again could see the beauty in everything.

I may plunge into dark recesses of anger and despair, but this is impermanent.  I will always return to a place of centeredness, of peace.

statue of Ganesh in the gardens of Govinda’s. Copyright Katharine M. Hanna.