aging in place, Caring for a parent, family caregiver, mother daughter relationship, Retrospective

Intentions, Insmentions: What I Meant

The end of another year. I have learned nothing. My word for 2014 was “kindness.” I just read my New Year’s post from a year ago and have to admire my insight, and confess my utter failure to embody my intention.

On Christmas, I found a deck of cards in my stocking: Dementia Translation Flash Cards. Okay, my sister made them, but watch for them someday on a website near you. Or make your own—and share them with me. Here are some samples:

What I said: Put it over there. I want to look at it again.
What I meant: Throw it away. Let’s clean up!
Back story: I helped Mama “clean off” (reading aloud everything in the piles) the stupid round table (SRT) in the kitchen three times the week before Christmas. All the same piles; she couldn’t decide what to do with things then couldn’t remember what was there or see the identifying stickies she had me put on them.

What I said: I can’t see it.
What I meant: I love that you are now enjoying the view. Thank you for describing it to me.

What I said: Did you thaw the chicken in the microwave? I don’t like it quick-thawed.
What I meant: Thank you for fixing dinner.

What I said: I think you are losing your memory.
What I meant: I’m losing my memory faster than I can remember, which makes me forget I can’t remember. Sorry!

What I said: It doesn’t taste the same as last time. They must have had it in the freezer/used inferior ingredients/changed the recipe.
What I meant: Thank you for taking me out to lunch.

What I said: I don’t want to go; I won’t be able to hear.
What I meant: I’d like to go—it’s good to get out. Thank you for offering to take me.

What I said: I can’t find the half and half. Where did you put it?
What I meant: Good morning!

What I said: Is this shirt/hat/pair of pants blue or purple/dark or light blue/dark or light purple?
What I meant: Is my outfit coordinated? If not, fix it; or, what the hell, lie. Who cares anyway.

What I said: I’ve been wanting to do this, but you never have time.
What I meant: Thank you for helping me. I’m sorry I keep thinking you are a mind-reader, so I don’t ask for what I need.

What I said: Where did you get the beans/meat? It tastes old/not as good as last time. You must have gotten old vegetables/old meat/overcooked it/undercooked it.
What I meant: Thank you for fixing dinner.

What I said: That’s not the right way to do it.
What I meant: I never thought of doing it that way. You’re a genius!

What I said: You didn’t have to close all the blinds.
What I meant: Thank you for closing the blinds. You are so thoughtful.

What I said: Gretchen lives in the basement.
What I meant: Bless my daughter Gretchen. She puts up with my crazies and makes it possible for me to sleep in my own bed in my own home on the hill I so love.

I thought the cards were hilarious, and a necessary technique for survival during these caregiving years with my mother—now 98.5. And then I read my post from January 1, 2014:

I wrote that Mama was looking for a green cutting mat after we had “cleaned off” the table in the store room.
What she said: What did you do with the green cutting mat that was on the shelf right here? [It was right there on the shelf.]
What I wrote about the incident: “I wish she could have just asked me to help her find it instead of assuming I had moved it—or gotten rid of it—when the problem was she couldn’t see it. I wish she could have apologized for her false accusation. If wishes were fishes. I am slowly learning to translate what she says into a language that feels more kind toward me.”

Oh. I guess I had the brilliant idea myself. A YEAR AGO. See what I mean? I have made no progress toward kindness in the past 365 days, as I challenge everything she says. And I forgot to try to learn the new language. Next week I will be on private retreat, on Whidbey Island (sandwiched between four days in Seattle with 11-month-old Elliot. My god, I have missed him!). I’ll look back at 2014: what went right, what did not. And decide if my word will have to be “kindness” again, or if a tweak is required. And I will contemplate this learning a new language thing. I have an idea.

I also wrote this quote last year, which I promptly forgot:

“You have to bend your mind around from the path it has always taken to a path where your own direction does not matter. You are there for someone else. It is easier if you don’t struggle against that, if you simply bow your head down to it, acquiesce, comply, love” (The Bookstore, Deborah Myler).

I’m not good at that. I’m selfish. I want a different life. But I have chosen this life for right now, and I intend to see it through. I prefer not to lose my own mind before it’s time for the next big thing; but arguing with dementia will not keep me from it. Being kind might. Maybe tomorrow. Every day dawns with a new opportunity to try again. Trying: it’s the best I can do. It’s the best any of us can do. We’re all—you and I and those for whom we care—doing the best we can. No one said we have to be perfect.

Speaking of dawns, there have been some gorgeous ones here on the hill the past week. Happy New Year, dear ones. Thank you for reading, thank you for being on the journey with me.






17 thoughts on “Intentions, Insmentions: What I Meant”

  1. “We’re all—you and I and those for whom we care—doing the best we can. No one said we have to be perfect.”
    What an important lesson for us all to learn, Gretchen. Thanks for sharing it.


  2. Such beautiful, peaceful photos. Yes kindness and patience, which wish I had more of but which I am learning as I go.
    I walk this walk with my husband who has frontal lobe dementia and I have to remember that this man is not a stranger, although it sure feels like it a lot of times, but my beloved husband who has slipped into a place I can not go.
    Happy new year full of blessings and I am just trying to connect with others who also walk this walk.


  3. There are life lessons for all of us in those cards…inserting, replacing, re-interpreting the words we hear. Thanks for the reminders…they are great help and support! Love the pictures!


  4. My dear, sweer Mother is beginning to forget who I am….and even the house she has inhabited for 50+ years seems strange to her. “Kindness” needs to be my word as well… Find my frustrations translate into snapishness… Our ‘new year’ will begin for me on January 12th, the first anniversary of my father’s (and her husband of 72 years) death… Thank you for reminding me that this is all part of the journey…. And I’ll be trying to figure out What She Means!


    1. That is so sad, Sue Ellen. Perhaps more for you than for your mother. Snappish. Yep. Yep. It doesn’t help, but neither does swallowing it seem like a good idea–although I do and have done that with most everyone but my mother. Thinking of you on the anniversary. The first one is a hard one. And the second, third, fourth…


  5. I love the cards! And, yes, I think they’d be a real boon to those who are sharing your journey, as well as anyone involved in a trying relationship. Of course you’ll do better if you can translate the foreign language! You are mahvelous, dahling! Just keep your sense of the absurd tuned up and laugh whenever you can (tapping helps, too).


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