Yesterday, I spent the whole day with my mother and Poh-Poh, my grandmother. My grandmother has a form of dementia which induces paranoia, delusions, and short term memory loss, so caring for her is difficult. Complicating these mental deficiencies are the memories and deep emotions surrounding the unique mother-daughter relationship that mom and grandmother share.
While I was more familiar with handling the objective challenges posed by elderly folks (equipped as I was through my long term care ombudsman training in law school), dealing with the problems and frustrations generated by the care of your own grandmother was something completely different. Here, there is no retreat to the safer, saner world that distance and unfamiliarity usually affords you. Here, there is no semester which ends your obligations to serve and protect those who have no concept of time. Here, one has to heal from getting slashed by shards from a broken mind.
I cannot imagine the world my grandmother must perceive she is imprisoned in. No amount of counsel, no provision of medication, and no powers of reason can prevail against the phantoms generated by my grandmother’s mind. Dementia is a foe which turns friends into enemies, family into strangers, and your own senses against you. Yet there are brief glimpses of her former self- a self untainted by the unbridled emotions and fears. These episodes of lucidity are few and far between, but they are also a curse. If grandmother were completely overpowered by dementia’s ravages, then we- as her caretakers- could resign ourselves to knowing that she was never going to be herself. Yet, maddeningly, these lucid periods are as unpredictable as her outbursts of frenzied activity! So we ride this roller coaster of emotional turmoil and hope that one day this nightmare will be over for her.
As I was thinking about these experiences, I began to write Lonely Mind, a little poem about my Poh-Poh. Like her, it begins life in an orderly enough fashion, then disregards its own rules and ends as abruptly as one of her outbursts. It’s unbalanced, going from six alternating lines of 8 and 10 beats to a conclusion with four lines of 10 beats each. Anyways, I had hoped to experience some of the harsh unrealities she must be going through and capture those very real illusions in verse form. You can read it here.