The Elusive Past

P1080616She gestures, looking around and opening her arms to the world, “I didn’t know everything would change.”

Her mind won’t grasp details. If I asked her, she wouldn’t come up with examples.  Out of kindness, I don’t ask. I understand that nothing is as she would have expected.

My friend has always been a take-charge social whirlwind. She raised five children, got her degree, taught grade school, and after retirement organized charities, sororities and church functions. She was in the mainstream. People dropped by her house, invited her out, and clamored for her time and attention. She smiled easily and told such detailed stories that we used to remind her that it didn’t matter whether it happened on a Tuesday or a Wednesday – to just get on with it.

It’s different now. Dementia changes everything.

I gently remind her that it’s different for all of us as we age. We have to stay involved and keep the contacts. The world no longer comes to us.

But she knows her own confusion. She realizes that although she has lived in the same house for over 50 years, the neighborhood is different. The people have changed. The surrounding streets are busier. The main intersection on the familiar corner is no longer familiar – it has a traffic light and two more lanes.

It doesn’t matter because she can’t really put her finger on what is missing. That’s the thing.

She can’t quite recall the wedding that she attended a month or two ago. Who was in it? Was it really her granddaughter? Then which child of which son? Is some of that mixed up with her own childhood? And the funeral this last weekend brought another change. The tragedy of her cousins death is a jolt. Hasn’t that woman been with her all of her life? Hasn’t she been at every family function? Wasn’t she always there? No matter that she was 98 years old. How could such a thing happen?

Mostly though, my dear friend misses her place in the world. She misses recognizing people on the street and being greeted by passersby. She misses the familiarity of her life when she was vital, how it hummed with activity and connection.  She misses being valued and listened to and knowing where she put her shoes…and remembering that it is those elusive shoes that are creating her dilemma as she stands looking around her.

I can’t give it back to her. I can only live in the present with her. I can agree that the food is good. I can commiserate over the confusion of so many cars outside the window. I can look at her with love and share her longing for the sameness that we enjoyed for all those years.

I can be happy that our deep friendship and affection for each other is still there. Even though everything  has changed.




  1. I can relate. My late wife suffered from dementia and was totally dependent on me to protect her from committing social gaffes. Like your friend has you, she had other close friends who too would protect her when I was away. You are blessed to have the opportunity to be of some service to her.


  2. A beautiful insight into the world not only of dementia but of the elderly in general… much change and being left behind……so right of you to be patient and loving and exemplify what being human is all about.


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