On Grief and Dementia

This is incredibly upsetting.

It is a video made by a man whose mother is a disabled woman. She has dementia.
She has forgotten who she is and is happily eating an icecream. Her son begins questioning her about his identity and as he does so, the happiness slides from her face. She's increasingly anxious and his questioning turns to badgering.

Cut to the son sobbing in the car. 'I feel like she has died,' he says.

Yes, you do. And that is something that you will and must come to terms with because this is not about you. I had to learn that and confront my own ableism about the changes that happened to my mother after she'd had a stroke - I was impatient, resented her dullness and difficulty with doing things, hated that she could not remember things that she had remembered before.

People will tell you that this is about 'grieving'. Sure you are 'grieving', in a way. You're (often) grieving the loss of something that has been the same for most of your life, something associated with safety and comfort and love and home. 

But it is not death and this is not grieving in the same way true grieving works...you're grieving for something and someone who is still here with you, no matter how unfamiliar they seem to you and you seem to them.

And when that same mother or father held you when you were a small baby, when you pissed and wailed and balled your little fists up, red faced, screaming at the world - did they chastise you for treating them as your cognition allowed?

No. They cared for you and allowed you to grow into who you were and who you would be. And more than that - they accepted you and loved you.

It is incredibly distressing witnessing changes when a parent ceases to recognise a child or important life events, but it is not death. It's a great privilege to escort a family member at the end of their life and to care for them as they once cared for you, long ago.

'I feel like she has died,' he said. But no, she has not - she's there, eating icecream. And instead of grilling the woman who gave you life, you have the opportunity to eat icecream with her. When she's not there any more, you'll know what grieving is.

Don't screw that up by exploiting the people in your life and breaching their privacy and dignity.

It is about them, not you.

Thinking of my friends who have lost their mothers and the friends who would have loved to have a mother like Molly, disabled or not.



  1. On our visit to this place, we mostly stayed downstairs, where the beer and liquor selection was quite admirable. The staff at venues in Los Angeles really pride themselves on the beers and food they have.


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