In the skilled nursing home where I worked, there was a former socialite who lived with us. She didn’t know she lived with us because she was still living in her glory days in her mind. “Kim, get the candles and the wine from the cabinet by the stairs,” she’d command. “And can you bring me my bag, please? I need the addresses for the guests.” She was always planning parties in her youth and she was still planning them for months after she moved into our home.
One day her husband moved in with us. His dementia was not as advanced as her’s; he was confused but still aware that the past had passed. “I just want us to go home but my wife says we can’t. Is it wrong that I want to go home?” He appeared very sad in his wheelchair. I told him his feelings were perfectly normal and listened as he slowly explained his life to me as though he was just becoming aware of the truth. “We had everything. Money. Cars. Great business. Kids…I miss my kids being little. We had everything. Now it’s all over.” The realization that he had entered a new era of life had suddenly hit him hard and it was painful. I pointed out to him that life still had wonderful treasures for him but I knew my words were somewhat hollow. As the days went on he did adjust and found joy in the sweet and caring CNA’s who doted on him, cookies, and hot coffee, but the previous chapters of his life had come to a close. For his wife, who was blessed with dementia, those chapters had not ended. She still had a private home, work to do, and friends and family to celebrate.
Knowing both of them, changed how I saw dementia and life itself. Everything we work for must stop at some point. What I don’t know is whether it is better to be fully aware of that reality when the time comes or whether it is better to be permanently transported back in time to the unrelenting demands of our young adulthood. I suppose it is fortunate none of us has to make that choice.

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