Meeting People You’ve Never Met Before

I hope I’m not interrupting, since this is a Thursday. On my walk this morning—cold with brilliant sun—I had an idea and if I wait until Sunday, it could be too late.

Earlier this week, my psychologist friend asked how I was feeling about seeing my mother. I said it might be hard. It seems her mind has quickly slid farther down the mountain of cognitive capability.

Example: I called Mom to tell her I had extended my visit. Instead of leaving on Wednesday, the 29th, I’d leave on Saturday, January 1st, so we could spend New Year’s Eve together.

The next day, she called. “I know you extended your visit, but I didn’t write it down. What day did you say you were leaving?”

The day after that, she called again. “I know you told me when you’re leaving, but I can’t find the paper I wrote it on.”

The day after that, last night, I called Mom. She asked when I was leaving.

“On Saturday. New Year’s Day.”

“But I thought you said you were extending your visit.” She sounded hurt.

My psychologist friend had two chunks of advice before I left, well-informed not just by her profession but also by her lengthy experience of Alzheimer’s with her father:

  1. Realize when you see your mom, you’re seeing someone you’ve never met before. She’s not who she was. She’s a different person. Your job is to listen and get to know this new person.
  2. If she has sundown syndrome (the person feels anxiety and confusion in the hours before and after sunset; according to the NIH, it’s highly prevalent among individuals with a dementia), your job is not to explain. Your job is to calm.

As I walked and thought about this, imagining myself being who I need to be with my mother, I realized this has always been true, and true for all of us.

With or without a dementia, when we see people we haven’t seen for a while, who they were isn’t who they are. They’ve had experiences that have changed them.

Especially in families, we tend to have firm and fixed views of these people we’re related to, by birth or by relationship. It’s hard to see that our own view is fixed, but the person is not.

So, with what’s left of this holiday season, I invite you to join me in taking this approach, to get to know these new people we’ve never met before.

PS: Please, God, the Universe, angels, Trent, and whatever helpful beings are out there, please help me remember. This could be the last Christmas Mom knows who I am. Please help me be who I need to be for her.

Chewing the Cud of Good

Small golden brown seed on a wet, purple background

Thankful for, when I focus on it, the calm of my breath.


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