Groundhog Day in Dementialand

You wake up in the morning. You open your closet to find something to wear. You realize immediately that something is wrong. Most of the clothes in your closet are unfamiliar. They look like women’s clothes, but you’ve never seen them before. So you call your daughter, and you are angry. You know she has a smaller house and not a lot of closet space. You’re pretty sure she’s storing her clothes at your house without asking you. You tell her she needs to come over immediately and pick up the clothes. You just don’t have room for her stuff at your house. 

Your daughter denies that she knows anything about the clothes. In fact, she says you bought those clothes yourself. You would know if you bought those clothes, obviously, so an argument erupts. Your daughter drives over and insists you try on the clothes. She wants to prove to you that they fit, that they are your clothes. You think this is ridiculous, so you refuse. She keeps holding up the clothes in front of you to show they are your size, but you slap them away. She leaves in a huff. You don’t understand why she just can’t take her clothes back to her own house. 

What you don’t realize is that this happens every morning. Your daughter knows to expect the call between 7 and 7:30 am. She knows she will get accused of putting clothes in your closet. She’s tempted to not answer the phone, but she always does. She tries her best to be rational and reason with you, but it never seems to work. She thinks that if she can convince you to put on the clothes you will realize that they fit you and that you bought them. However, the plan never seems to work. She’s sick of the accusations. Every morning she storms out and sits at work all day feeling guilty for losing her patience.

She wonders if you should live with her, but she just doesn’t know if she can handle it. She worries that her relationship with her husband would suffer and her kids wouldn’t understand what was going on with grandma. She thinks about an assisted living, but doesn’t know how to approach the subject with you and has no idea about your financial situation. She knows you wouldn’t go willingly. After all, you don’t see why you can’t live alone. The neighbors are stealing from your garage and the utility company didn’t process your last payment even though you sent the check, but everybody has some bad luck now and then. It’s tough because your husband has been gone for quite a while now. You’re not certain where he is, but you’re sure he’ll be back soon, so obviously you can’t sell the house.

You’re doing fine. You’re not sure why your kids keep getting so upset with you. You don’t know why your grandkids don’t stop by like they used to after school. And you can’t figure out why you haven’t been asked to babysit lately. You used to help the ladies at church make food for funeral luncheons, but there was recently a misunderstanding where you were supposed to bring the pies but no one told you. That resulted in an argument, and they haven’t asked you to help since. Maybe they realized they were wrong and are embarrassed.

Your daughter wants to have holidays at her house, although you’ve always hosted them at yours. She says you need a break, although you really enjoyed putting together the menu and cooking for your whole family. You told her to call everyone and tell them you’d do Christmas this year, but she didn’t. You were pretty insulted. You’re a really good cook. Everyone who ate your potato salad last year got sick, but that was because the mayonnaise you bought from Super Walmart was expired when you bought it. 

Tomorrow you will wake up again and look in your closet again. You will realize again that these aren’t your clothes. You will call your daughter. She will take a deep breath and promise herself she will be more patient on this day. She’ll stop by on the way to work, and she’ll leave once again in the midst of a tense argument. Then she will feel guilty for her lack of patience. She will do the same internet search for assisted livings that she does everyday at her desk. 

I met the daughter in this scenario recently. She told me that she feels like she’s in the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.” She said she just can’t do it anymore, but she doesn’t know how not to do it. She feels powerless. It’s the same cycle, the same pattern. It will change, I reassured her. Except it’s not really reassurance because I can’t say it will change for the better.

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