6: The Lady in the Mirror

6: The Lady in the Mirror

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

The Lady in the Mirror

The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.

~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

One day I met the Lady in the Mirror. It began several years ago, after Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was in an assisted living facility. I was helping her find some pants that fit, and she was trying them on and looking in the mirror. At the same time, we were talking about the people who worked in the facility and her friends there. I was having a hard time figuring out what was real and what wasn’t in her side of the conversation.

She turned and said, “Well, her? I like her. She is always really nice to me.”

Who was she talking about? “Her,” she said, pointing to her reflection in the mirror.

It caught me so off guard. There we were doing normal things, and suddenly she was talking about her reflection as if it were another person. How should I react? I looked closely, as if there was going to be someone else in that mirror, and said, “Who, Mom?”

She again pointed at herself in the mirror and said, “Her. That nice lady.”

“Great. I am so glad she’s nice to you.”

I learned long ago there is no arguing with someone with Alzheimer’s. There is no bringing them back to reality. Once a piece of information is gone, it’s gone. There is no relearning it as a child might. So I went along, still in a state of shock. It wasn’t until later that I could accept that the lady in the mirror was real to Mom. I could see that for now, at least, the lady in the mirror was her normal, her truth — so it would have to be mine, too.

A few weeks later I went to visit Mom, and I found her in someone else’s room trying to get some peace and quiet. Even my mom sometimes needs a break from the constant ruckus in the Alzheimer’s ward — people yelling things that don’t make sense, ladies trying to sell you their walkers and talking to dolls, one man giving lectures as he did when he was a professor.

That day she seemed tired and out of it. I asked if she wanted to walk around. She agreed, but soon she had to use the bathroom. When I went in to make sure she washed her hands, she was talking to someone in the mirror and I stopped to listen.

She asked, “Where is your brother?” and replied, “Isn’t that nice, really?” to a voice only she could hear.

I interrupted to ask, “Mom, do you want to walk with me or would you rather stay here and talk?”

She replied, “Yeah, I am kinda busy right now. I think I’ll stay here and talk.” And so I was passed up for the lady in the mirror.

Another time I walked in to find Mom napping. I was going to leave her laundry and come back the next day, but just then, Mom woke up. “Hi Mom, it’s me, Molly, your daughter.” Since Mom may or may not recognize me when we meet, I always identify myself to her.

That day she remembered me and said, “Hi, hon. Come here, I want you to meet someone before they leave.” And so I was reintroduced to the lady in the mirror. To my mother’s reflection, no matter that mine was also peering back at us. I greeted her and that was enough for Mom.

No matter how many times things like this happen, they feel so utterly strange to me. My mom’s reality, which constantly shifts to non-reality and back again, can be so confusing, even though I experience it constantly. One minute we can be talking to her reflection and introducing ourselves, the next she will touch my arm, as she always used to, and ask, “How are you and your husband doing?”

I am glad she loves her reflection, because she sees herself as a kind being. This is yet another lesson my mother has taught me out of the confusion that now is her life. We all should love the man or woman, boy or girl we see in the mirror. We should love ourselves with the kind of love my mom has for her lady in the mirror, even though she doesn’t know she is seeing herself, my beautiful, loving, and kind Mom.

Look and see, and be as kind to yourself as the Lady in the Mirror is to my mother.

~Molly Godby

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