Dementia speaks

Proud Mary

Here’s are some of the things Mary, my mother-in-law, said to me while I sat beside her in the rehab center:

I think I’m going to have a feel a big feel

Would it be wrong if I just walked out

OK but don’t get in the garbage

No he’s not at all .. 

Every time I see one dressed as a Bar… I can’t believe it

Do you want me to tell you about Capelina?

Would you like to take this one?

She is churching, Marjean, churching

Her bossy, Proud Mary (as I’ve always thought of her) manner of speaking is the same: full-throated, declarative, emphatic. And the sentences start off as something you want to listen to. But then they quickly lose their meaning. Is she searching for words she can’t find? Does she finish the thoughts in her head? Does she imagine she is speaking to someone else, someone who is actually conversing back, which would explain the pauses, the redirection, the listening-look she has on her face.

He has the cobell

He has the coball

What are you saying

That won’t work

He’s always last

O.K., don’t worry about it

I rarely ever see him

Do you have everything, anything

It’s the hideon. He’s the hideon

What else to say about Proud Mary? Never remarried after a mid-life divorce, Mary sold used cars, holding her own against an all-male sales crew. She had that deep, loud voice; a full-bodied figure, at once mannish and womanly; fiery red hair. She was an at-home mom who could have been a professional actress but settled for grabbing all the good roles in Milwaukee’s community theater productions. She could be sharply critical; was quick to anger. She mixed margaritas, disco-danced at parties. “Susie Homemaker, she was not,” my husband, who had a complicated relationship with her, says.

The thing is, Mary’s still alive. Somewhere within her wasted body mind and dementia-fogged brain, Proud Mary’s still in there. But, oh the indignities she suffers! Oh the (to me) horrors of her memory care unit at the assisted-living facility! I say “to me” because it’s unclear whether she feels anything (frustration? embarrassment?) when the nurse’s aid changes her adult diaper or spoons pudding into her mouth. And now I’m back to thoughts on end-of-life and good death, more of which is here.


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