Through the looking glass: Forget me not, part 1

Slowly she scans her closet for her favourite dress. It was his favourite too, but he hasn’t been around for quite some time. She still misses him. Today is a special day. It’s her birthday.

‘Global aging is a success story.’

Finding the familiar blue fabric she pulls it from the hanger. He always said it matched her eyes perfectly. She hears a knock. “Mom? Are you ready for breakfast?” Perplexed, she wonders who it might be. She answers the door and politely tells the gentleman standing before her that he must have the wrong door. He assures her he does not and proceeds to enter her room. She is frightened and clasps her dressing gown tightly with her hands.

‘Of the world’s population, over five million are over eighty five years old;

a triumph of public health, medical advancement and economic development.’

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Placing a tray of food on her nightstand he turns to face her. He sees the fear in her eyes and softens his tone a bit. “I just wanted to bring you some breakfast and see if you needed help with anything.”

“I’ve already eaten.” She continues to cling to her dressing gown.

“Oh. What did you have?”

She considers for a moment and then responds, “Melissa brought me Sheppard’s pie.” She smiles, pleased with her recall. “It was lovely.”

His eyes look down for a moment as he sighs, “Mom, Melissa didn’t bring you food. Melissa has been dead for ten years.”

Shock overwhelms her as she tries to comprehend the words that have been hurtled at her like a rock out of a slingshot. She shakes her head. He must be lying. She was just here an hour ago.

She glares at him and asserts herself. “You should leave. You shouldn’t be here.”

“Mom, listen to me…”

“Get out! Get out now!” Her voice cracks on the verge of hysteria, but he knows she’s frightened. He concedes to leave.

“I’ll leave the food in case you change your mind. OK?” He pauses at the door, waiting for some acknowledgement. There is none.


‘Today, the combined direct (medical) and indirect (lost earnings) costs

of dementia total $33 billion per year.

If nothing changes, this number will climb

to $293 billion a year by 2040.’

Watching the door click shut, she breaths. Turning back to her room she looks at the tray of food and dismisses it. She looks around her room for a few minutes then decides to tuck back into bed and read a book. She pulls the bookmark out of her spot and begins reading. Losing herself in the fiction she hears a gentle knock on her door. A woman’s voice follows, “Mom? Can I come in?”

“Emily! Of course!” She throws the covers back and proceeds to the door. Emily enters with a smile of relief.

“Mom! You are looking well.” The hug she gives seems almost desperate. “How are you? I see Darren brought you breakfast?”

Turning to follow Emily’s gaze she sees the food. “Oh! I don’t know where that came from. Was Darren here?” She searches her memory for how the food could have gotten there.

“It’s OK Mom, are you hungry?” Emily keeps one hand on her mothers shoulder.

“I am, actually. I just woke up. I should get myself together!”

“Why don’t you pick out something to wear and I’ll help you get dressed, then you can eat.”

“Oh, that sounds good.”

‘In 2011, family caregivers spent in excess of 444 million unpaid hours

looking after someone with cognitive impairment, including dementia.

This figure represents $11 billion in lost income and

227,760 full-time equivalent employees in the workforce.

By 2040, family caregivers will spend a staggering 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year.’

Emily sees the blue dress draped across a chair and gathers it in her hands. “How about this one?”

“Oh yes, that one is lovely.” Emily helps her mother into the delicate garment. She sees her mother stare at the buttons.

“Here, let me.” She does the buttons for her mother. “Do you remember what day it is?” Her mother stares at her blankly. “It’s your birthday!” Emily smiles broadly. “You’re eighty-five today, Mom!”

Her brow furrows as she tries to comprehend what the woman has said. “That’s not right.” She continues to shake her head.

“Can I help you with breakfast?”

“No thank you. I’ve already eaten.” She begins to leave her bedroom. Once at the door she looks at a living room she doesn’t recognize. She turns. “I think I’ll stay here.” She crawls back into her bed.

Emily’s face saddens, “OK Mom. I’ll check in on you later OK?” Met with no response she closes the door.

‘In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with some form of dementia.

By 2031, this figure will increase to 1.4 million.’

The sound of the smoke alarm penetrates the sound of the vacuum as Emily hastily turns it off and runs to the kitchen. Smoke is billowing from the oven. Emily turns it off, throws on an oven mitt and pulls the door open. Smoke towers from the oven as Emily pulls out the clothing that has become stuck to the element. She throws it in the sink and turns the water on it. The garment responds with sizzling, snapping and clouds of smoke and steam. She closes the door to the oven and takes a deep breath. Walking into the den she finds her mother sitting on the couch, looking out the window. Naked.

‘The risk of dementia doubles every five years after the age of 65.

By the age of 85 one in two people will have the disease.’

By three in the afternoon, Emily is exhausted. Mostly mentally. Her mother is now dressed and sitting at the dining room table, clutching her purse. Emily props herself on a bar stool against the kitchen island and regards her mother. She thinks back to the day the diagnosis came. The counsellor spent two hours explaining everything. The doctor spent five minutes. Terms like ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ were thrown around. And nueropathways. Part of Emily knew it was happening. Part of her couldn’t face it. Part of her was thankful and relieved that she wasn’t imagining it and part of her felt like she was a horrible daughter for allowing her very first thought to be professional care….

‘The physical and psychological toll on family caregivers is considerable;

up to 75 per cent will develop psychological illnesses;

15 to 32 per cent suffer from depression.’


Jennifer Barry writes for The Spectator Tribune

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