The sun was barely shining through the clear blue sky of a winter morning when I visited my 82-year old mother who has Alzheimer's and who lives with my sister, and is looked after in the best way possible. Her memory not being what it used to be, conversations with mom are often funny and insightful with an unexpected turn of the word or phrase. She is quick to notice things around her and is always delighted to meet visitors, engaging them in conversation about families and acquaintances, mostly from her past.
As I usually do, I spoke to her in our native Konkani, a language spoken mainly along the western and southern coast of India; and, as on previous occasions, I got a glimpse into a life lived moment by moment.
Hello, Ma! It's me. How have you been?
(Smiling broadly) Oh, it's you! When did you come?
Just now. Do you know who I am?
Of course, I do — what a silly thing to ask! As if I don't know who you are.
Tell me, Ma.
(Looking at me) You're my father!
How can I be your father? I'm your son, right!
Oh yes, you are!
Can you tell me my name?
(Pausing) I...I don't remember now. My memory has gotten worse.
It's all right. I'm your son.
No, you're my brother!
Never mind, Ma. I'm very happy to see you.
(Taking my hand in hers) Even I'm happy to see you.
I'll be here with you for a while.
Oh, good! You stay here then — I'm going. My bags are packed already.
Where are you going, Ma?
I'm going home, to my mother. She has been calling me. I don't know whose house this is.
But this is your home.
What nonsense! I don't live here. This house belongs to someone else.
Okay, Ma. Tell me when you'd like to leave.
Where will I go? See, it's raining outside. I’ll leave after a couple of days.
We will leave whenever you like. I'll go and freshen up now. My room is right next to yours.
Oh, that's your room. Very nice! How much are they charging you?
No charge, Ma. It's your home. I'll see you in a bit.
It's good that you've come. First have tea and eat something, and then you can take me home! Have you brought the house keys?
As unreal as a bad dream, my mother's world is real and normal to her, just as it is for millions suffering from Alzheimer's/Dementia. And, as their closest family, it's important for us to accept them as they are and not as we want them to be; to step into their world rather than try to bring them back into ours; to love and understand them as best as we can and keep them comfortable and emotionally secure; and, most of all, to just be there for them.