Dementia Lessons

Dementia runs in my family. Big time.

Like the gene is so strong my Alzheimers should be kicking in any time now.

Sorry to make light of a serious subject but you have to joke about these things or you’ll go crazy.

Sorry, I promise that was the last Alzheimer’s joke…. Unless I forget.


Any way…. Savannah, focus.

My aunt Colleen had a pretty hard life. From a family of nine children, to a wife of a man who did evil, horrible things, then a single mother raising four children, then another divorce, and through it all she struggled with poor health and living in poverty.

Things were a struggle for her and she seemed to constantly be fighting through life.

At one point in high school I lived with her and she was very caring to me, supportive, and we had a lot of great moments. (side note: when I was a baby she breast fed me when she babysat me because my cousin and I were babies together… maybe that’s why we had a special bond.)

Is that too much information? I’m not sure! But you can’t deny that I’m anything but very very honest with you all!

Colleen was a good person, caring mother, fantastic aunt, and generally very loving.

But she had a pretty bad attitude.

She made sure everyone remembered she was unhappy with her lot in life. And sure, she didn’t choose the things that happened to her and many of them she didn’t have control over. She honestly had a lot handed to her that no one deserves.

Those things were not her fault.

As brutal as it is to say, her negative reaction to it all, however, was.

She focused so hard on the bad things in her life, on the hardships and misfortunes that she became difficult to be around. Up until around 2014 she was nearly impossible to spend time with. Misery loves company and she made sure everyone knew how miserable she was.

We couldn’t share our joys with her because that brought on a rant about how unjust the world was that nothing good ever happened to her. Then we’d be left feeling guilty for having happiness ourselves. On the other hand, we couldn’t share our problems because she would compare them to hers and of course we couldn’t compete. So how dare we feel bad when things weren’t nearly as bad for us as they were for her.

It made conversations quite unpleasant. Though I loved her for who I remembered her to be and the wonderful support she had been to me, the bitterness was seeping through it all.

Around 2012-2014 Colleen started showing signs of dementia. She was in her late 50’s.

So young!

I told you, the gene is strong in my family. My poor husband…

The dementia progresses as these things do from mild forgetfulness to full blown unawareness of reality. I’ll spare you the details of the Alzheimer’s milestones.

At the end of 2016 my cousins checked her into a nursing home. It was really the best option for her and she’s in a nice facility where her daughter works as an RN. Now, not only does she have the care she desperately needs that she didn’t get when she was living alone, far away from her family, but now sees her daughter regularly and lives closer to her grandchildren.

In January this year I went back to Utah to visit family. I love Colleen very much so of course I went to visit her at her new place.

She doesn’t really understand where she is, only that she moved and she feels bad for the other people there because they’re all so old or in wheel chairs.

She remembered who I am (I was flattered) and loved my pink hair. Thanks aunt Colleen!

But something else stuck with me that I just can’t stop thinking about.

She was happy.

Where she used to be uptight, she was really chill. Where she used to be depressed, she was bubbly and fun. She laughed and enjoyed my visit. She told jokes! And we both made fun of my mom relentlessly (which my mom didn’t think was funny. But it’s fine, in a few years she won’t remember either. Ugh, you just have to laugh…)

So here’s the thing.

She does not remember those things that were terrible in her life. Her brain has completely cut them out of her memory.

All she has is the HERE and NOW. 

She isn’t dwelling on the misery she experienced. She isn’t pining for a future she’s always wanted. She isn’t contemplating her lot in life.

She’s just living in the moment.

Now, I know that things are going to get much worse and it will be terrible and painful for us all. I know that.

But right now she’s in (for lack of a better term, although I know it’s far from accurate) a “sweet spot” with her dementia. She can still remember all of us and she knows what’s going on around her but she has forgotten her trouble. It’s simplified her life.

I truly feel so bad that she didn’t get to enjoy life the way she is now back when she had all her faculties about her. She really would have been such a kick-ass person.

So I’m trying to take away a Dementia Lesson from Colleen.

I’m trying to enjoy the life that I have, ignore the trouble that has brought in negativity, and focus on enjoying everything no matter what is going on.

Life truly is so short! And for this brain of mine… well, it might be shorter.

I want to enjoy life fully while I can. And I have my wonderful aunt, Colleen to thank for this perspective.

2 thoughts on “Dementia Lessons

  1. I shared my pumped breastmilk with my niece when she and Elsie were babies and … I kinda can’t stand her now. I wish that my breastmilk would have made her into less of a drama queen 4 year old cry baby, or that I’d feel more of a kindly auntie bond with her but i just don’t. At all. Is that harsh?


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