The Unreliable Narrator
Mama has cognitive dysfunction, or brain fog. As the years go on, gradually more of her brain succumbs to the fog, while other parts continue to fight it—and me—in every way it can. While dementia is advanced cognitive dysfunction, and Alzheimer’s a type of dementia, I still don’t believe she has those more debilitating diseases. But the synaptic failure she does have brings those of us who care for her to our knees in frustration.
Arguably, the most frustrating thing is her invention of facts to help herself over the fumbling for what is lost in her short term memory. The cognitive dissonance between what she has made up, erroneously perceived, misremembered, or pulled from distant memory, and what I am telling her is truth, stresses and agitates her. She fights to reconcile them and come out on top.
“I don’t think the nightgown I had on last night is mine. It didn’t feel right. I couldn’t sleep.”
“The one hanging here is yours.”
“Which one is it?”
“It’s pink, with bright flower fabric sewn on the bottom.”
“There’s a new night aide. She said it was bright purple. I don’t have a bright purple gown.”
“You do have a purple gown, two in fact.”
“It’s lavender. Maybe she’s colorblind.”
It’s impossible to know if this conversation even happened, let alone what was said. She tells many tales I know are not true, though, and her insistence that they are decreases her happiness quotient. It’s not possible to talk her into the truth. Add to that the stories that may or may not have happened and she’s a very unhappy camper. And it’s all because she is living in a place she doesn’t want to be. It happened when she lived at home too. She doesn’t remember that.
The food is swill, though she liked it when she arrived three months ago. Everything has gravy. She hates it. We were walking the halls the other day and passed her table mate just before lunch time. “See you at gravy time,” Mama said to her. In fact, at my request, she (supposedly) hasn’t been served gravy for the past three weeks unless she requests it. But I can’t know she’s not getting it unless I attend every meal with her; I can’t rely on her to tell me. She didn’t like the food at home, either. She doesn’t remember that. True, it had no gravy, but she wanted gravy then, or sauce of some kind.
“Lorrayne told me the dessert at lunch was pumpkin pie,” Mama tells me. “It tasted like gravy.”
“The menu says it was applesauce pie,” I say. (I’m quite sure her table mate didn’t tell her it was pumpkin.)
“It tasted like chocolate cake,” she says. I roll my eyes.
I don’t know how to fix this. I know she wants to come home, because life was perfect at home. Except there was her bratty daughter, she had no visitors, she couldn’t do anything except sit, her caregivers irritated her. And she didn’t get what she wanted to eat prepared the way she wanted it, which was based on her unreliable memory of the way it used to taste.
I feel sure people think I am a terrible person for not being able to keep my mother at home.