When I went to put my pajamas on my last thought of the day was oh my gosh Karen get yourself some new PJ’s. You have a closet full of shoes, some you never wear, but threadbare jams. It’s ridiculous.
Ending your day with such negative self-talk is not a good sign and, in this case, things went even further downhill. Before I’d even made it into bed I was thinking about my mother’s sweatshirt. This sweatshirt makes my pajama bottoms look new. Worse than the shirt is what it represents.
Sometime in the last year it’s become her go to. Maybe it’s COVID? A year of social distancing has definitely taken a toll on her. Unless we’re bringing her to our house or taking her out with us, she has nowhere to go. The few social things she had to do before COVID are all but gone. This has sadly made her dementia worse. The phrase use it or lose it is true.
With nowhere to go you really don’t have any reason to dress up but this sweatshirt has reached the point my Mother wouldn’t be caught dead in it, even at home. What got to me this particular evening was that her hair has now joined the sweatshirt fray. When Chase brought her over for dinner not only was she wearing it, her normally perfectly coiffed hair was all over the place.
Somehow in the last six weeks her hair has aged. I’m not joking here. My Mom has good hair. It’s the perfect color and waves in just the right places. She can wash and style it once a week then comb and go every day. Most ladies would kill for her hair and now all of a sudden, it’s gone wild. I know it doesn’t grow as quickly as it used to, but standing on end? Never.
I hate this. Not because I’m so vain I care about how she looks. I hate it because she used to care. She used to care too much. My Mom has never been an extravagant woman but she never left the house looking anything other than pulled together.
The challenge for me watching this change is that it’s not going to get better. It’s going to get worse. The elder care folks have explained the progression of things to me and personal grooming suffers in the aging process along with everything else. Of course, all the other stuff is hard. Being asked the same question five times in a row can be maddening and her shredding important tax documents makes for a fun day. The power cord fiasco is worth a story of its own.
You could describe it like having a toddler but that feels like it robs my Mom of her dignity which I don’t want to do. It’s also fundamentally different because toddlers make forward progress but the elderly go backwards. This is what the sweatshirt and the hair scream at me, ALL THIS WILL GET WORSE. There’s no cure for dementia on this side of eternity.
As a Christian I know there’s healing on the other side but this does little to comfort me now. Telling yourself it won’t always be like this for her, is like putting a small bandage on the gaping hole in your heart. It’s impossible not to question God about why it has to go this way EVEN when you know the answer to the question.
The only thing that makes it somewhat bearable is that my perfectionist Mom can’t hold on to a thought long enough to be worried about it. If she was at the market and noticed her sweatshirt needed to be thrown in the rag pile, she couldn’t remember it long enough to feel embarrassed. Her hair out of place—same thing.
This is the evidence of God’s mercy in it all. My Mom who has been a slave to worry and her perfectionist personality is not suffering. Dementia has rooted out her need to have everything be just the way she likes it—and it would seem God is trying to root this out of me too.
There’s no question I’m a lot like my Mother but caring for her and loving her through this last season in her life is reshaping me. In the last eight years God has polished up her best qualities in me and is chipping away at the things that need to go. Certainly, perfectionism is one of them. I also care a lot less about what people think of me. I don’t know that I’d wear my current pajamas to a sleep over but I might run to the store in my gardening clothes. Might…
We all like “perfect” and we’re convinced that getting right is a good thing and it is, but not at the expense of our self-esteem. I hate that throughout her life my Mother spent more time than she should have worrying about any number of things, but in the end, I hope I can remember the lesson in it for me. Only God’s grace is perfect and that’s because He always meets us where we’re at— ratty clothes and all. In fact, I think if you show up in heaven with your hair a mess, He just smooths it out before He crowns you with His glory.