If my mom’s mind is like an hourglass, each grain of sand is a memory. Watching the sand slowly fall is more painful than I know how to fittingly describe. Dementia is a thief. If I could, I would flip the hourglass back over and pour the memories back into her, restoring what has been lost. But I can’t. And because I can’t, I have to learn how to navigate grief for the long haul.
If I’m being completely honest with you, I have to tell you that I’m not very good at grief. Grieving involves big emotions and I’m not a fan of those, especially the harder ones like anger or sadness. I’m still, even as a 46-year old, learning how to process those well instead of running to my favorite distractions like getting lost in a good book, Netflix binging, or seeking out dairy products. I mean, what sounds better to you? Feel big, scary feelings or eating cheese? (Please pick cheese so I’m not alone.)
The reality is Mom’s dementia is not something I get to avoid. I’m not able to run or hide from it. And that’s not really what I want to do anyway because I want to be there for her. I’m her only child. I’m her daughter, her personal shopper, her accountant, her chauffeur, and so much more. I’m thankful to be a part of her life even as I watch that life so drastically change. I wouldn’t give up my ability to be present with her for anything. And so I am forced to do what is hard for me: grieve for what is lost. Cry for what I miss. Lament for the way things used to be.
Sometimes I think of grief as a lake that is frozen over with ice. I’m standing in the middle, staring at the shore. Each time Mom reminds me of what she can no longer remember, it’s as if a tiny fracture is made in the ice. The bigger the loss, the greater the fissure. I’m trying to walk to the shore without falling into the freezing water. If that ice breaks, down I’ll go. What if I drown in my sorrow? The idea of it is overwhelming.
Sometimes when I sit and pour my grief out to God, I describe the lake, filled with so many cracks. I ask him to help me get to the shore, where the land is stable and everything feels less scary. It’s then that he reminds me that he’s not only aware of where I am, but he is present with me. Each tentative step I take on the ice, he takes, too. Each fracture, each memory gone breaks his heart just like it breaks mine. And if the day finally comes when it’s all just too much and the ice breaks, sending me into the dark, frigid water, I won’t fall alone. Even there, he’ll be with me.
I know good and well that God could pick me up and place me on the shore. Why doesn’t he? I’m not sure. He can make the dementia disappear. Why doesn’t he? I don’t know. So, I find it’s best to cling to what I do know: Dementia is a thief, but God is still good. He won’t give up his ability to be present with me for anything. Even when I’m standing on thin ice.
Take heart, fellow grievers. We are not alone.