There are ghosts in my house. Lots of them. And I’m not talking about the kind of ghosts that sneak in and leave the bathroom light on, spill soda on the kitchen counter, or eat the last piece of key lime pie for the sole purpose of getting perfectly innocent children in trouble. I’m talking about paranormal, bump-in-the-night spooks.
Well, maybe they don’t go bump in the night, because so far I haven’t heard them. For that matter, I haven’t seen them either. But I know they exist, because every night about the time my wife and I are getting to sleep, they gather in my mother-in-law’s room for happy hour.
You know that feeling like there’s a party going on and you weren’t invited? That’s not so bad unless it’s happening under your own roof. Of course, I remember a few I didn’t mind missing. Like baby showers and the party my daughter threw when she turned sixteen. And there have been a couple where the sole purpose was to sell things I’d rather not think about, so I was happy to be on the “do not invite” list.
But this party goes on all night long, and we don’t really know who’s there. In fact, I’m not sure if we’d even approve of the guests. I guess they could be respectable people, like Mother Teresa or Abraham Lincoln. That wouldn’t be so bad. But judging by some of the conversations I’ve heard, I think it’s Beetlejuice.
Every night I give her a kiss goodnight and tell her, “No ghosties tonight.” And for the first couple of hours, things stay pretty quiet. Oh, she’ll yell for my wife to “put the lamp out” or turn off the TV. Or to turn the TV back on, or put the cat out (we don’t have one), or fix her some dinner, or let her come inside so she can go to bed. The list of demands changes almost nightly.
To be honest, we’re not really sure she’s yelling for my wife. Around our house, names are of little significance these days. In the past week I’ve been Dick, Doug, Ray, Charlie, Kevin, and occasionally Dave. My wife has so many names that I’m starting to feel like a bigamist. Last week she was Darryl. Let’s not go there.
But around eleven o’clock, just as we’re starting to fall asleep, the “Open For Business” light goes on in her room. Okay, that didn’t come out right. But then, you’d have to know Jane. Let’s just say dementia has taken a toll on her sense of modesty, and she’s made a few suggestions that sent me running.
I’ve read a lot about aging, and it’s not at all uncommon for people her age to see apparitions. And to them, it’s not a dream. In her mind, they’re as real as television and chocolate candy, two of the only things that still hold any interest for her. Well, that and men. Some things never change. In fact, I think most of her nightly visitors are men. Thanks for making me think of that. Now I’ll REALLY have nightmares!
And the thing we’re learning is that you can’t just dismiss their visions. You have to humor them. It’s like a little boy who thinks there’s a monster under his bed. It’s not enough to tell him he’s imagining things. You have to get down and look under the bed. Even then, it’s possible the monster is just hiding or is invisible to adults. After a while, we begin to wonder if we’re the ones who are delusional.
And it’s no different when it’s an elderly person communicating with people who aren’t really there. Or are they? Who are we to say they’re not getting visits from the other side? Maybe it’s a loved one telling them to hang on a little longer. Or maybe they’re telling them “it’s not so bad here – don’t be scared.” In our case I think they’re saying, “What’s wrong with you? They’re asleep again! Let’s party!”
Either way, there was a time when we could just tell her she was dreaming, and she’d accept that and go back to sleep. Now, it’s not that easy. She’s decided we’re conspiring to make her think she’s crazy, and apparently all of these ghosts are cheering her on. So we have to play along. “Okay, tell your friends it’s time to go home so we can all get some sleep. They can come back and play again tomorrow.”
Of course, “tomorrow” is a relative term at that age. When you know you may not see another sunrise, tomorrow is any time you want it to be. Around our house, it happens just about every hour. Last night she said, “What if we’re not here tomorrow?” I thought about it a few minutes and realized she had a point. “Okay, but they have to go home at midnight.” I guess I should have specified a time zone, because they were still at it when I left for work this morning.
My wife is convinced that dementia is contagious, and I’m starting to think she may be right. I guess this would probably be a bad time to point out that my wife spends the better part of every day with her mom, whereas I get to go to work. So her level of exposure is a lot higher than mine and … well, never mind. She reads this most days, and I’m still gullible enough to eat anything she cooks. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.
But I think the thing we’ve learned most is that dementia doesn’t wipe out their ability to think. There’s confusion, and facts don’t always stay the same from one minute to the next, but they’re still capable of some level of reasoning. I’ve often joked that I can try new material on my mother-in-law five times a day and have a fresh audience every time. The same is true when she starts telling a story. You may have heard the story a dozen times, but by the time it’s finished you’re going, “Wow!” Okay, most times it’s “Huh?”
The difference is, they think like children, but still realize they’re an adult. It’s the mental equivalent of going through an IRS audit with the realization that it was paid for with your tax dollars. Or the seven dwarfs singing “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go …” Except in this case you get all seven personalities in one body. After a few days with Grumpy, Dopey is a welcome break.
I guess I can’t complain about the ghosts. They keep her company, and if it weren’t for them she’d be … well, sleeping. But for somebody who prefers to spend her day sitting on the couch watching the paddle fan through closed eyes, I guess it’s easy to understand why she always looks forward to bedtime.
I don’t know if ghosts can read, but if they can I just want to say one thing. Visit with my mother-in-law all you want. Crank up the music, have a few drinks, party till dawn. Keep her really amused. But the first time I hear my wife talking to you, the party is over. Got it?
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon