One thing that is most difficult about living near my Aunt Muriel is that her memory takes her, most of the time, back to long past events and situations.
She's talking about people I have known and deeply loved who are now gone. Like my mother. And my grandfather.
She's talking about people I wish I could have met. Like my great-grandmother. And my Aunt Florrie.
Sadly, this sets up my grief cycle to some small extent all over again. A small flap of the tough skin that has developed over my losses keeps getting probed every time I visit with Aunt Muriel.
Yet I cannot, of course, ask her not to mention these people. Her memories of the long past are pretty much all the memory that is left to her. Recent events are forgotten before the day is over. Even the memories of the last two to three decades of her marriage and of the homes she shared with Uncle Bob are all but gone. When she talks of New Jersey she nearly always places herself in her childhood home in Newark or at the Long Valley farm where she and her siblings spent all of their childhood summers. To Muriel, the years of the 1920s-1950s are only yesterday.
I have seen a lot of Aunt Muriel in the last month and some of my very unwelcome depression is returning to me -- partly because these people, no longer part of my life, are ever before me in conversations with Aunt Muriel, and partly because I see Aunt Muriel's sense of the present and her short-term memory growing worse with each passing week.
Dementia is the terrible thief that is taking my Aunt. It robs her of enjoyment in the present, simply because she cannot remember the next day how much fun she had or that she even did anything out of the ordinary.
Dementia is what causes her to tell me she is bored, even though I know she was just in an animated conversation with another resident out in the day lounge of her assisted living facility.
Dementia is beginning to nibble at her assurance that I am acting in her best interests because she cannot always remember how I came to be her niece (that one fact -- that I AM her niece -- is still with her, thankfully).
Prayer and a conscious striving to revel in the present are my only defenses. Dementia is cruel.