What was my life like a year ago?
I spent my whole day in front of the television.
I didn’t have a choice, really. My mom loved watching the news, even if she didn’t really seem to understand it anymore. It’s so repetitive, maybe it’s good for people with dementia. The same loops of stories, previews, stay tuned, over and over again. I felt like I was losing my mind.
Politics. Crime. Unrest. North Korea. The weather. The traffic. Soundbite after soundbite. One drug ad after another. The world I don’t get to see, trapped in this house. After months of that television blaring in the corner I didn’t want to go outside, anyway.
But there were plenty of reasons for me to feel like I was losing my mind. Living with someone who has lost theirs, thanks to dementia, will drive you to wonder if you have it, too.
Who am I today? What year is it? Where are we? It’s all up for grabs, one minute to the next. I just rolled with it. There was no convincing her I was her daughter, that it was 2017, that we’re at home. Always at home.
Who wants to tell someone bad news over and over again? Your parents are dead. Your husband is dead. I don’t know who that is, but they’re probably dead. The sister you like best is not here, you’re stuck with me.
Sometimes it was interesting, but I never knew what was true. Is this a family secret coming out? A lost love, old friends, sides of my mother that she’d never shared before. But it could just as easily have been a movie she saw in 1973 or an article in a magazine she flipped through while waiting for the dentist.
Now she’s gone. The house is gone. I cleared out her stuff, mostly so worn out it wasn’t worth giving away. Downsized to a tiny studio apartment. With retiring early, getting divorced, raising kids of my own, there’s not much left for me. I’m just counting the days down until I’m old enough for Social Security to kick in. Not that I’ll stop counting my pennies, but it’ll be easier. Plus, I could maybe find an apartment that’s a little better in senior housing.
The house is actually too quiet now. I never thought I’d say that after years of her rambling, shouting, the television in the background. I never learned to tune it out, it’s designed to be impossible to ignore. The commercials that are just so loud. Now there’s just silence.
At first the silence seemed normal. It captured how stunned I felt once she was gone. I was too busy to dwell on it. It was sort of nice, if extreme. I soaked it in while I sorted out her things, her estate, just kept putting one foot in front of the other to do what needed to be done. Like I’d done for her whole illness. Like I’ve done my whole life.
And now I’m on my own.
No one needs me.
There’s just silence.
Which isn’t totally bad. I just don’t know how this works. I’ve always lived for my husband, my kids, my mom. Now I’m on my own. It’s the silence of a fresh start.