By Loraine Balita-Centeno
It was an extremely long and painful goodbye. Losing her bit by bit before her eventual death last year was a nightmare. This thief of a condition stole her slowly and at first without us knowing it. Dementia took away the energetic, jolly, vibrant, always optimistic mom I knew and grew up with. And it started in 2014.
1. It was her but it wasn’t her
We used to talk every day on the phone for an hour each time. But suddenly her calls stopped coming. And whenever I’d initiate the phone call she didn’t seem interested. Whenever we’d talk she wasn’t as invested in the conversation as before and was instead too preoccupied with her things that have gone missing and which helper took them. I knew it was her but a part of me knew that there was something wrong, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It was 70 percent my mom and 30 percent someone else in there.
2. The mother I knew was gone inside. Her body seemed more like a shell, an empty shell.
There were times I felt like her body was an empty capsule, walking, talking, functioning as usual but she was gone inside. Like she wasn’t there anymore. Whenever I looked in her eyes it felt empty, like the mommy whose eyes sparkled everytime she’d see me after a long time was gone. It felt like someone slowly took mom—her personality, her everything.
3. There were times I felt like she was possessed. Like someone abducted her and replaced her with someone else who just looked like her.
She drove us crazy and at our wit’s end most of the time. It was a rollercoaster ride of emotions mainly because she had a 360 change in her personality. And because I did not understand what was going on we kept fighting. I kept fighting this stranger inside her who I felt stole my mom. I wanted my real mother back. And the mom I saw during her final years was so different from the mom I knew. The only way to describe the situation was someone abducted my mother and replaced her with someone else. I would cry my eyeballs out in frustration every day. Saying it was a difficult time is clearly an understatement.
4. She stopped connecting.
Looking at her pictures now I realized that a year or two ago my mother stopped looking at the camera. She stopped connecting to other people even in pictures. The mom I knew loved photos and would gamely pose, look at the camera, and smile but that too was gone. Even in the few ones with her looking at the camera (quite accidentally) there was no more connection there. Our conversations, which used to be fun and would go on for hours, turned into me telling her about my day and her zoning out and hanging up on me before I could even finish my sentence.
5. Watching her during one of the worst episodes was heartbreaking and traumatizing.
At its worst dementia had my mom asking me the same question about a white car every four minutes, literally. She would fumble with her words and then blurt out something incoherent. I knew that she, too, didn’t know what was happening, and she didn’t understand why she was so worried about a car. She’d beg me to go with her downstairs and then she’d ask me to bring her upstairs. We did this a few times and it was the most heartbreaking thing to see. The strong, level-headed, and waray-waray mom I knew became a frail, stick-thin, woman who didn’t know what was happening. It was traumatizing.
6. Sometimes you feel she’s coming back, then you lose her again.
While throughout the two years before her death I felt that she was slowly leaving, there were also times when I felt she was coming back. Especially during her final months and weeks. I started hearing the mom I knew. It’s only now that I realize that maybe she forced herself through this condition so she could come back to say goodbye.