We find her on the floor.
She is sleeping.
I am scared. She is snoring.
I bend down, “Ma. Ma. Wake up.”
“You’re so tall,” she says as she looks up at me. Her eyes are empty. Blank.
They have been empty, blank for some time now.
She had been diagnosed with moderate stage dementia. For those of you who no nothing about dementia, I tell you, it strips you bare, a destroyer of hope and faith and goodness. If you don’t believe much in God, dementia will certainly push you further away.
“Ma, you’re on the floor. How’d you get there?”
She tries desperately to arrange words so they make some sense, “I. Don’t. Remember.”

There were so many incidents, both large and small. The driving straight into a fire hydrant, the driving into the closed garage doors, the burning of bagels and toast, and the once fresh flowers left in a vase for so long the water evaporated and left a perfect mold-ring and the smell of mildew.

I tuck her in. Ken waits for me in the spare bedroom. I sleep with my mom. She smells old. Frail. Not like the mom I remember who wore Pleasures by Estee Lauder, or Final-net hairspray, which left her thin hair so stiff, and so unlike human hair. She smelled old, and frail. She too, had once been a fresh flower.

But what I remember – the memory that is vivid – is her peeing on the floor. Those other memories I can toss aside, fan away as if an annoying fly buzzing my head. But this moment, memory has stuck with me, and fills me to the point I often feel like my knees are buckling under me. She stood in the hallway. She had replaced her beloved perfume, Pleasures, with 3 to 4 days of not bathing, she had replaced her soft brown eyebrow pencil with a purple sharpie pen, and most of her white garments – sweaters, tee-shirts, blouses – had the forever stain of L’oreal beige #3 makeup on the collar. It was a hot day in New Mexico, where she was now living in an assisted living facility. She had turned up the thermometer to well over 90 degrees in her apartment. I was irritated, and impatient and lacked any generosity in that particular moment. I was in the throws of menopause, and if I tell you that 90 degrees felt like a thousand degrees, I would not be exaggerating. I told her that it was so hot in her apartment that I was getting a fucking sunburn just watching television. She yelled at me, saying angrily that she wasn’t hot. “I have a chill, I’m Goddamn freezing.” she screamed at me, and I proceeded to yell back at her, asking her how the fuck could she possibly have a chill when it was almost 100 degrees in her apartment.
“I don’t feel hot. If you make it colder, I’ll hate you. I’ll hate you. I will never talk to you again,” her voice shrieking.
“Fine, Mom, hate me” I said.
This, by the way, was not unchartered territory, the yelling and the screaming and the chorus of “I’ll never talk to you again and I hate you.” This was not new, or unexpected.

What came next was.

She peed on the floor.
In the hallway between her bedroom and the living room, the pee dripping down her leg soaking into the wall-to-wall carpeting.

She covered her mouth. Mortified. And then she said through a wave of unstoppable tears, “I have no control.”

Had she been much younger, and in therapy, this would be a moment of enlightenment. A revelation.

But this was not that kind of moment. It was terrifying and all and everything became crystal clear.

My mother – my feisty, angry, emotional, strong-willed, gorgeous, sexy mother – was no longer.

This is what I remember: her standing there drenched in her own urine, her fragile hands (hands that once sported perfectly manicured nails) covering her mouth, tears falling from her eyes (eyes that were once green and filled with passion), her body small and slight (a body that was once strong and stunning and oh so, sexy), and that all she had been was completely gone.

When I was a little girl, my greatest and biggest fear was that my mother would leave me and not come back. I think most little girls feel that way. Or maybe just most little girls I knew. That fear of losing your mom penetrates, permeates, and fills your soul until the moment she comes back and you can breathe.

This time my mother wasn’t coming back.
She was gone for good.

I clean up the pee, and I wash her housecoat, and I keep the heat in the apartment to where she felt comfortable – 94 degrees – and I sit with her on the couch and i sweat profusely, and we hold hands, and watch TV. And I close my eyes, and I silently pray to any and all the God’s throughout the universe – any and all that I can remember by name – and I ask that my mother ‘please, oh please, not remember what had just happened,’ because it would fill her with great humiliation and embarrassment and disgrace, and if one or more God’s can just grant me that wish, I promise that I will not forget, because by not forgetting, she could never really ever be gone.

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One Response to “demenopause”

  1. Leah Venae

    Dear Amy,
    I just found you and have read a few of your entries. I found you because I am in the throws now, going on my third year, of menopause hell. I sank into an anxiety abyss speckled with hot flashes (on some days every hour).
    I am writing to say I appreciate your honesty and refreshing sense of humor about all that we (I) have endured to date and I have not found myself on the edge of a cliff yet!
    Your writings have inspired me to start a workshop here for women needing this kind of support through humor and art/creativity. I am an artist and art therapist and am, at this moment at least, excited about doing this! Maybe my suffering can help others and make a difference in some small way. Thank you for your work. I will be purchasing your book next!
    Hot and sweaty hugs to you! — Leah

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