38. Friends in the Mirrors

38. Friends in the Mirrors

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Friends in the Mirrors

Life is like a mirror; we get the best results when we smile at it.

~Author Unknown

“Leo, there’s someone in the house.” Dad got out of his padded lawn chair on the screened-in back porch to go check the house. Feeding the birds, rabbits, and squirrels was put on hold again.

He returned a few minutes later having found no one, but it was worth it to put Mom at ease.

When my mother was diagnosed with dementia, while my siblings saw it as a nightmare they could not deal with, I saw caring for Mom as an opportunity. It was a chance to find humor, which we did often, but most of all, I found a depth of love for Mom and learned a lot. There were challenges, but the difference between giving up on her and cherishing time with her hinged on allowing her to just be who she was.

Mom’s belief that there were people in the house could have been the paranoia that can come with dementia, or it could have been Mom no longer recognizing herself in the mirror. Mom sometimes did not recognize herself. I helped her learn to talk to “those people” in the mirror and become friends with them. Soon, every time Mom saw a mirror she made a new friend.

In physical therapy, there was a mirror that patients used for visual feedback on the exercises. When Mom saw the mirror, she stopped and had a conversation. She smiled and laughed as she talked to her new friend.

Every time she went to physical therapy, she stopped to visit with her friend.

“Hi. It’s good to see you again.”

Short pause as she waited for a response.

“That’s funny,” Mom would reply to her friend.

Tim, the physical therapist, would encourage Mom to move on.

“I need to go. Come see me sometime.”

Mom had many friends in mirrors. At home, her friend in the hall mirror was named Mary. Mary was her confidant. When Mom was upset or frustrated she often talked to Mary, and then she felt better. I encouraged her to talk to Mary when she was upset. It always seemed to help. Mary was a good listener.

Then there was Tom. Tom was in the mirror in Mom’s bedroom. Tom was nice, but more of a casual conversation. Although one day when we were going to run errands Mom said Tom wanted to go, so the mirror had a place on the back seat of the car safely strapped in the seatbelt. Tom could be a good friend to have around, but he had a side that was a bit ornery.

One day I was in the living room, and I heard Mom in her room. She was very angry with Tom. When I went to investigate, she said, “Look at what he did,” pointing to a bowl of chocolate marshmallow ice cream sitting on the floor. “I gave him that ice cream, and he threw it on the floor.”

I didn’t dare laugh, knowing how angry she was at Tom. Instead I picked up the bowl of ice cream, handed it to Mom and said, “Why don’t you go ahead and eat it? Tom doesn’t need any if he is just going to drop it on the floor.”

We retreated to the living room, leaving Tom alone to think about his behavior.

Mirrors also helped to relieve anxiety. Mom could be in an anxious fit, see a new friend in a mirror, and everything would change.

During a lengthy wait in a doctor’s examining room, Mom was becoming restless and fidgety. I simply placed a chair near the door and sat in it. There was no reason to do anything other than let her have the freedom to walk around and fidget.

All of a sudden she saw someone in the corner. Her eyes lit up. She went to the mirror and leaned towards her new friend. “Come on,” she said, motioning with her hand towards the door. “Let’s you and I get out of here.”

Although Mom no longer recognized herself in the mirror, mirrors were important to keep her company. They were wonderful friends — as long as they did not throw ice cream on the floor.

Watching the progression of dementia was not easy, but it was not without opportunities to laugh and enjoy. I had to abandon my expectations of what she “should” be — of what she was in the past — and instead love and appreciate who she had become.

Since Mom’s death, my memories of caring for her are even more special. I gained so much from my time with her during her last four and a half years of life on earth.

It didn’t matter if Mom put her shirt on over her nightgown and wore them to the grocery store. It didn’t matter if she ate oatmeal with her hands when she had difficulty using utensils.

Stuff did not matter.

Mom and her friends in the mirrors did.

~Carol Luttjohann

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