I did not have a tea party today, but I did manage to put my hands on a bouquet of daffodils that
were clearly tea-party worthy.
My mom gaily picked up her phone and greeted me.
"What am I doing right now?"
Always with the guessing games. Even in these days of advanced dementia, my mother loves to quiz me.
I can't imagine, I replied. Tell me!
"Samantha and I are having a little party. She baked us some peanut butter cookies and right now, she's making me some fancy coffee. We're almost ready to eat!"
And while that may sound like a lovely afternoon in any context, the news that my mom was sipping cafe-au-lait and munching treats with her caregiver spun me around like a cyclone till I was limp as a rag doll, dizzy, and seeing stars.
Because just 24 hours earlier, my mom's anxiety levels had spiked off the charts. Hoarse from hours of uncontrollable screaming, intermittently curling up on the couch in the fetal position, and interrupting our phone calls to wildly argue with her hallucinations, Mom's behavior was so extreme and concerning that I placed an immediate after-hours call to her physician and asked if he thought she needed emergency care.
Daffodils are one of the first to flower each spring, and many specimens - like these - are grown indoors and forced into bloom ahead of season, while winter's pale still settles over the earth
My mom most likely has Lewy Body Dementia.
Overshadowed by its more famous cousin, Alzheimer's Dementia. LBD is a little-discussed, hard-to-diagnose, and frustratingly mysterious memory-loss disease.
In simple terms, my mom struggles with visual hallucinations, extreme anxiety, and an ability to concentrate that changes from day to day, even minute to minute. It must be terrifying to suffer from LBD, and the panic and free-floating despair that she often expresses are real and justifiable responses to her condition.
A whole new approach to communication is essential. Whatever Mom is seeing, feeling, or thinking in the moment is totally and unarguably real to her; those things must become my reality too.
Mom is unusually sensitive to the emotions of her companions. When I'm with her on the phone, as I often am for hours each day, I must present my most strong, soothing and stable self. When she becomes agitated, angry, anxious, then it's all the more important that I stay in my Zen zone.
Patiently, I try to listen and truly hear what she is saying.
Calmly, I try to acknowledge how she must be feeling.
Soothingly, I try to redirect the conversation in more positive directions.
None of this is easy.
None of this is fun.
And none of this works every time.
I struggle every day.
They bring me joy, these daffodils, as they celebrate spring's lively hopefulness on yet another
dreary day of February gray.
But I have learned a lot about how to be at peace with my mom.
And while the storms will surely continue to rage in her desperately damaged brain, I will celebrate every moment that she finds a way to be at peace with herself.
Especially when there are cookies involved.