I had the strangest feeling two days ago when I visited my mother. She was in the hospital and was recently diagnosed with vascular dementia. She was receiving speech therapy and I sat in the corner of the room, just observing. I watched my mother interact with the speech therapist. She tried so hard to find the right words when the therapist asked a question. It became clear that she was unable to retrieve the majority of past or present life events. She would then become frustrated and agitated. At one point she could not recall my father’s name. A man she was married to for 45 years. A man who was the love of her life. My mother said that she wanted to stop working with the therapist. It was clear that she was aware of the deficits in her memory.
As I sat in that corner of the hospital room observing my mother, I had the strangest feeling. I recognized the woman who was lying in the hospital bed.This was the woman who had raised me. The woman I always adored, the woman who, without fail, was always there for me. She had the same beautiful wavy red hair and the kindest eyes I had ever seen. Despite this I had an overwhelming feeling that this, in fact, was not my mother. I knew intellectually that of course the answer to this question was “yes." Emotionally, however, I felt frightened that this woman laying in this hospital bed may eventually not know or recognize me as her daughter. She will, in essence, not have the constructs which make up one's past. Those essential moments which color the history of a person's life.
That was the question I was trying to answer as I sat in the corner of that hospital room on that day. If my mother could not remember her past or present, would this woman still be that person who I called mother?