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PAM FRAMPTON: Lost and found

Rose petal confetti. —
Rose petal confetti. — Pam Frampton/SaltWire Network

Finding moments of joy amidst dementia

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” — Og Mandino, author

She’s wandering the halls like a lost soul, searching for her third-floor room in a two-storey building.

She walks close to the wall, looking down, her hands stretched out as if to steady herself.

“She’s always lost,” an observer mutters.

I smile, thinking to myself: not always.

She’s losing things now. Has been for years, really, but the pace has picked up.

Glasses. Hearing aids. Dentures. The TV remote. Scrabble tiles.

Some turn up, some don’t. I imagine they’re out there in some kind of Bermuda Triangle of missing things, whereabouts unknown. Never to be found.

And things turn up that aren’t hers, in some sort of cosmic exchange that makes it all even out.

She’s losing names and faces, too.

Sometimes she pretends recognition, I suspect so as not to hurt the person’s feelings.

I often wonder how it feels to be in her private world, to be constantly losing parts of yourself — snippets of memory — and struggling to find stubborn things that just won’t be found.

But she has a smile for whoever she meets and though she doesn’t necessarily know their names, she always expects that they’re good people.

I often wonder how it feels to be in her private world, to be constantly losing parts of yourself — snippets of memory — and struggling to find stubborn things that just won’t be found.

How odd to find yourself without a rudder and too often at sea, where few things are familiar, nothing is where it’s supposed to be and you are constantly searching, searching.

It must be frightening at times, and exhausting.

Now she is losing fragments of space and time and geography.

“Where are we?” she asked the other day, as we sat in the garden sipping ginger beer. She said it casually — no panic — as if it was just a matter of curiosity.

“In our backyard,” I said.

“Yes, I know that,” she said, “but what street is this?”

I imagine she feels more secure where she lives, so she doesn’t like to venture out often.

Once known for her fashion flair, there are only a few favourite pieces of clothing she will wear now. Newer things just don’t register as hers.

But there’s always jewelry — brooches and earrings and necklaces. She wouldn’t step out without them.

“Look at you, dressed up like a stick of gum,” I say.

She worried me the other day, when we arrived early in the afternoon to find her sitting in the lobby in a clutch of other residents, sound asleep.

With both hearing aids missing at that time, and in between pairs of glasses, I suspect she dozed from sheer boredom more than anything else.

When she woke, startled by my voice, for a moment I thought I was a stranger to her.

Those are the scariest times.

But before long she was back to herself and I gestured to her that I was heading upstairs to begin the hearing aid hunt. She nodded gratefully and turned to the person beside her. “I’ve got my hearing aids gone,” she said. “There’s always something to torment.” And she laughed at herself and her own frustration, as she always does.

You might assume that with memory and senses failing, there isn’t much room for joy in life. But you’d be wrong.

The day we sat in the garden, she enjoyed the heat of the sun, was thrilled at the colourful pattern made by the perfumed pink confetti of fallen rose petals in the mulch, and savoured the spiciness of the ginger beer.

“My God,” she said, “How many years is it since I’ve had this?” as if somehow she had given me the keys to her memory for safekeeping.

When we brought her back home, I asked her if she knew what day it was.

She did not.

“It’s my birthday,” I said.

And she smiled and pulled me to her chest in a hug and kissed my face.

Because she’s not always lost.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton


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