At first, when you’re young, it’s your mother: “No, you can’t wear that. No, you can’t do that. Because I said so!” When you reach the age where you can go out of the front door by yourself, it’s society’s turn: “Buy this! Be the first to own it! No jaywalking!” At every turn we are told what we cannot do and we learn to live within the rules of mother and society. And then, for some of us at least, dementia steps in and removes all rules and restraints. We start to wear mismatched clothing. Ignoring the tyranny of the clock we eat whenever and whatever we want. Time loses its hold on us and all becomes only “the present”. Our 90-year old mother has developed significant dementia and I no longer know how to have a discussion with her. She seems to think in her own private language, one that locks out reason and logic. The other day I mentioned, “I really like this new hat that you have Mom”, which comment launched her off into a tirade against her roommate. Knowing that she is also hard of hearing I tried again, saying, “No Mom, I wasn’t talking about your roommate, I said I like your new hat.” For Mom, however, having latched onto her dislike of her roommate, my words meant as little to her as hers did to me: “I will NOT sleep in the same room with that woman!!!”
Society can be as unreasoning as dementia and yet many of us assume that, if we are to live with others, what society tells us is reasonable. I am not, by any means, advocating anarchy, but I am suggesting that it is not sufficient to be a good, law-abiding citizen; as time goes by each of us needs to learn how to think differently than how our society has taught us to think. Al Hirschfield once said, “Sculpture is really a drawing that you can fall over in the dark.” For Hirschfield sculpture and a drawing can be the same thing if one thinks of them in a way that does not consign them to two separate categories, which is not our usual way of thinking. Thinking about things differently than we are used to, or that society has taught us, creates options for our lives which we never knew could exist. This can be partially what is behind what we refer to as a “mid-life crisis”: Having lived by society’s rules for a goodly part of our lives, we begin to wonder if there can now be a different way for us to live: What if I changed careers? What if I moved to Hawaii? What if I started painting? Certainly this shift in thinking must have been at work in Grandma Moses’ brain when she suddenly began painting at around age 80!
It has been said that a flower does not think of competing with other flowers… it just blooms. A flower, and those with dementia, just live in the present: Do we, who are not possessed by dementia, know how to do this in a healthy way?