One day in 2012, my mom noticed my dad was not quite right. He seemed quiet, a bit confused, and not at all like himself. At dinner that evening, he was unable to order his food and looked pale and disoriented. They went straight to the local hospital and after ten days of testing, it was determined that he was suffering from a severe Urinary Tract Infection and dehydration, but his behavior never returned to normal. Years later, he no longer drives, pays bills, or takes his own medicine. My mom takes care of all household duties, and his care is her 24-hour job. It has been determined he is suffering from Vascular Dementia, caused by a series of silent strokes.
Upon looking at my dad, few if any would know that he’s not fully present, that his mind is elsewhere or that he might not know what year it is. The very experience of dementia itself is one of erasure. A fogging of memory, a confusion of time and space. But also, and perhaps most importantly, erasure of the self. Of the very identity one has spent years cultivating and nourishing. Caretaking within this experience also often goes unnoticed. My mom mourns the loss of a person who is still physically present, yet absent in many other ways. She is left to pick up the pieces of his fractured identity daily, even in the act of answering questions, speaking for him, and learning to live without the emotional support and intellectual stimulation he once provided. The landscape we are born into, the environments we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with create a layered patchwork that give our life meaning. What do we do when things lose their meaning? When a word we've uttered over and over no longer makes sense?