Before turning out the globe lights in the bathroom, I peered into my ghostly-white, lit cosmetic mirror.
“Darn,” I said once.
“Darn,” I repeated louder.
My husband, already in bed checking his Twitter feed and calling out news stories, ran into the bathroom. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? I always tell you, you have one job,” I said, still examining my face in the mirror and pointing to my chin.
“What is it?” I heard him say.
I turned away from the reflection to find a tired, confused look on his face. He was unsure of his duty other than the marital one.
I pointed at my face, below my lips. “To tell me when I have a chin hair that needs to be plucked.”
We all fear old age, and more so, the cognitive decline or dementia that might accompany that shift in our lives. Dementia is defined by the Alzheimer’s Association as a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is one example. Dementia is an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
Science understands many of the underlying causes of dementia one might encounter. Science and research is proving out ways to combat the decline or stave it off. But there is no cure and while there is no cure, there is care.
And that care is at the heart of our true fears about dementia. Or at least, mine.
The big “D” has now become our generation’s big “C” for cancer, except society has arrived at a place of speaking about dementia more openly, thanks to social media awareness campaigns, and grandparents living longer and millennials taking care of them. Young adults have a far greater chance of being related to someone with dementia than in past generations.
For a reference point, my husband and I both lost our last living grandparent when we were eighteen. Our children are now aged 22-30. Half of their grandparents (we are a melded family so they had eight) are still alive.
They watched as my father’s health declined due to Parkinson’s that contributed to his death. They witnessed and lived beside my mother who experienced dementia for ten years before her death. They visited her in care home settings far removed from the nursing home of my grandmother, where creepy groans and putrid smells chased me off at the age of twelve.
When I would sit with my mother in her dementia, I not only responded to her needs. Internally, subconsciously, I started creating a list in head for my husband and kids about my needs.
And I started the list with chin hairs. I was Italian, where else would I start?
The list included a good pair of fashionable sneakers in a model I hoped Nike would still be manufacturing, freshly-ground and brewed coffee. Would they remember the sore spot on my back, an injury incurred during the mad, mad rush when we celebrated the marriage of our daughter, a college graduation, high school graduation and a move—all within three months?
My left hip circled around as opposed to moves forward. I counted my fruit and vegetable intake—in particular leafy greens. The list was endless, because so was my time with my mother.
But it had never been my mother’s dementia that frightened me. Oh, she did scare me at time when the disease took over and she demonstrated a wrath on par with a Disney villain. Her dementia was many things—worrisome, vexing, joyful. But her dementia was never scary.
It was the prospect of me ultimately becoming my mother, not through her commanding presence and attention to detail, but in becoming as helpless and confused as she was at times that I feared most. That drove me as much as my love and my hatred for losing at the game of her losing her mind.\
Back in the bathroom, my husband laughed, grabbed a Kleenex to blow his nose and went back to bed. I flipped off the globe lights and pressed the switch to turn off the mirror.
The room went completely dark and my mind turned to thoughts of my mother.
How many mornings had she bristled when I tweezed her eyebrows and chin? How many meals had she eaten in silence unless I showed up and asked her questions or made her talk to me? How many days did I do those things for her, thereby saving myself from lonely lunches and a hairy chin?
Read more in