If you've ever tried talking with someone with dementia, it can be an interesting, entertaining or downright frustrating conversation.
It doesn't matter the stage of the journey that your loved one is in. As soon as dementia starts to rear it's ugly head, conversation is affected. Difficulties with language occur in all stages of dementia.
Sometimes it's forgotten or misplaced words. Other times it's the same cycle of questions on repeat - even within the same conversation.
Conversation could begin with a jumble of words that make sense, but are totally out of context.
Why one earth is my dad talking about Australia AGAIN?!?! For the 3rd time this afternoon. If you didn't know better, you'd think he'd just come back from a trip Down Under. Instead, he last stepped foot in Oz in the 60's while on a R&R trip during his service in Vietnam.
But oddly, when my dad talks about Australia, something in him lights up (This also happens when talking about playing baseball in his neighbourhood streets of Boston, growing up next door to Red Sox and Bruins players. Consider yourself warned!)
As he shares stories about Aussie hospitality and never having to buy his own beer, you can almost see the conversations and moments recreated in his mind. He speaks so highly of his time, mostly in Sydney with such fondness. It's really kinda sweet because for just a moment, I feel as I've gotten a glimpse into my dad that I never knew.
For the longest time, I would get super duper annoyed when he would bring up Australia. Without a doubt, I'd roll my eyes and think "Here we go again. This will lead to conversation about Vietnam which will somehow come back around to baseball. Inevitable."
When it somehow came up that I too had been to Australia, he would be so surprised. For just that moment, he appeared to moonlight as a stranger I'd just met, one who didn't know my life history. Not my dad who followed my trip around the world in 2009, including a month in Australia. Sometimes, he would just ask me flat out if I'd ever been.
And I'd smile and say "Yup. I was there in 2009 and loved in." He'd ask me questions about where I'd been, what I thought, if the Aussies were still super nice and friendly (yes, they are also tall, sporty and handsome. So there's that.)
I'd answer his questions, all with an internal eye roll and sigh. Of just being annoyed.
Why oh why oh why can't he remember this? It's not a minuscule detail of my life to forget. Everyone in my world knows about my adventures and travels. We skyped from Australia. I sent pictures. He read my emails and blog posts.
Yet every time, it's like the first time. All over again.
It's different for me now though. I've decided to join his conversation. It's not his fault he can't remember. Which I know. But there's been a part of me, for 13 years, deep down somewhere, that was still, subconsciously, holding out hope that he'd miraculously remember about my visit to Australia.
Believe it or not, the internal shift I've had is really hard to describe or put my finger on. I just know that now, the frustration that I felt, the anger, the annoyance that would grip me doesn't anymore. (I mean, I'm not super human and no doubt will be annoyed at things in the future.)
But for now, I'm joining him in his conversation vs expecting him to be part of mine.
"Yes Dad. I have been to Australia and loved it. Can I tell you more about it? I always knew that you loved the Aussies and you're right. They are still super friendly. What was your favorite part about your visit there?"
Love you Pops. xx