Judith, my mom, has dementia. It started twenty years ago and every day is different with her. I was in my early twenties when everything changed for us as a family; there have been terrible times with extreme stress and better ones when we are just simply happy to see her healthy and calm even when her mind is not aware of us or her surroundings.
This series of images is an example of my mom treating me as a stranger, she is furious at me for no reason. At 5:34 PM, she transformed into this person that is not my mother, she was not the sweetest mom while I was growing up, but she cared a lot for my sister and me. Her time was devoted to my dad and us. So when I see her like this, one part of me laughs -because it is better than crying- and the other part understands that this is not her, is some else created by a “rewired sick brain."
With camera in hand, while she walks in the garden around the dogs and her nurse close by, I talk to my mom. Actually, I call her "Judicita" (little Judith), lovingly, and ask her why is she mad, if she knows who I am. No coherent response from her, she's telling me I'm a terrible person who doesn't take care of her children -I don't have children- and that I'm stupid. I wonder what is she thinking of and her perception of this moment or where is she in her memories that caused her to act like this.
She is getting frustrated because I don't seem to be understanding the severity of my actions, as she perceives them. I try to calm her down, distracting her with another topic but it doesn’t work. I laugh at the situation because it is better than engaging in a useless argument. My mom was always very serious, her brain now multiplies all the emotions, if she is mad, she hates everyone, if she is happy, she loves everyone. Once, she said I was her favorite of the two of us, but not today for sure.
She's done with me, no more cursing words and shouting, I have been ignored. The harshness of her face can be alarming, as tiny and slim as she looks when she is mad, her strength increases and can hurt you. I have learned to leave her calm down at her own time, words are not the only things that hurt in situations like this.
In the end, she gives up and seats looking at me in disapproval. What consoles me is that I know this will pass in a few minutes, and she will not remember the anger she felt. As the day passes, the bad mood subsides, and she transforms again.
Our family home is by the sea, and the weather is so hot there, but my mom is always cold, even there. Now the hand expressions to warm her hands transform into prayers. At least this is what she looks like doing most of the time, is she praying? I don’t know. I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable thinking she is suffering inside.
While we prepare her dinner, she sits there at the table submerged in her own thoughts, sometimes I can hear her singing quietly. She knows every popular song, she has a beautiful singing voice.
As incredible as it seems, my mom cannot retain new information like we do, but songs are a different matter. She surprises us singing new songs she heard on the radio and tv jingles. My sister jokes that we should live in a musical to communicate effectively with her. Our lives like a Broadway musical is very tempting.
My mom always loved animals, dogs are her favorite, and they love her. There are days when all she wants to do is sing to them and cover them with a blanket, they love the attention. If she is not in the mood for dogs, she demands to keep them outside and as far as possible from her sight. Our days are a roller coaster of emotions. Here my mom is singing to Yumi, the senior dog at home, while we watch tv and have dinner.
It is almost time for bed, she likes to be accompanied at all times. I understand that now, there have been times when I just went to the bathroom and would return to see her in anguish almost crying because she didn't see anyone there. Just imagine feeling lost in your own home, and not recognizing your home. Now she has assistance at all ours, she is never alone.
My mom always sleeps in my room, if she wakes up in the middle of the night, the bathroom is close, and the dogs often warn me if they hear movement. While I prepare to go to bed, I often catch myself staring at her for long moments. Sometimes I replay conversations that never happened with her in my mind. I create a fictional relationship, just because I always wonder how would she be now if she weren't sick. I don't sleep much when she is with me. When she wakes up in the morning, I can tell if it is going to be a good or bad day depending on how she greets me in the morning. I always hope for a good day for her.