Wise Elder

Dementia and Perpetual Delight

December, 2005

I help Mom these days with birthday and Christmas shopping for her grandkids, as she is not able to do it on her own.  I found the most adorable little nightgown and boa feather slippers for her 6-year-old granddaughter.  One of the things Mom can do well is to help wrap the gifts, even though this has to be carefully managed.  I’ve watched as she’d painstakingly wrap a gift, only to forget what was inside and unwrap the gift.  Then she would rewrap the gift, put the ribbon on, and once again, forget what was inside.  I’ve tried many things to help her out. I’d put a sticky note on the table saying what is inside to help her remember.  Left to her own devices she forgets all about the sticky note and unwraps and rewraps the gift repeatedly.

Although one can see sadness in this, she is not sad.  She just doesn’t remember.  I see that it’s not the circumstances that are necessarily sad, it’s the meaning we add. What I noticed in particular this holiday season is her enormous and seemingly endless capacity to experience delight.

The first time I held up the little nightgown and boa slippers she was so tickled.  She held them and admired them and talked of how much her granddaughter would love them.  A few minutes later she found the nightgown and slippers on the table again.  She held them up and found just as much delight as the first time she had seen them.  This happened a few more times before the gift was wrapped and I saw that it can be seen as a blessing of dementia to have an endless capacity for delight.  How bad can that be?  You and I would be delighted the first time, less so the second time, and have a tough time generating too much enthusiasm the 4th or 5th time we saw the same thing.  Mom’s capacity to experience delight was a joy to see.

Perpetual delight.  What a lovely concept and what a blessing! Rather than be sad about her inability to remember, I can enjoy her enchantment over and over.  In my Mom’s world she is just fine and it looks to me as though perpetual delight is among the blessings of dementia.

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