Days of Dementia: A Case of Mistaken Identity

on November 9, 2014
A few days ago, a lady was using her walker down the hallway and passed in front of grandpa and I. We were in our usual spots - he in his wheelchair and I on the floor beside him. The lady and I greeted each other and smiled and chatted for a few minutes.
"Is this your....grandpa?"
I was impressed, I usually get 'father.'
"Well, he's a sweetheart. Always pleasant. Never bothers nobody."
"Thank you!" I replied, "He is very sweet."
As she passed in front of him grandpa waved and said hello, as if to emphasize her point. She stopped, smiled and stooped down in front of him.
"Do you know this girl?" she asked. Grandpa gave her a blank stare.
"Do you? Do you know this girl?" She was kind, but insistent. I wasn't sure why this had to be answered, but she wasn't going to let it go, so I pulled myself up on my knees so he could see me better. She started pointing and dragging her finger towards me to draw his attention. "This girl. This girl right here. Do you know her?"
His eyes finally followed her hand and he looked up at me. "Yeah!"
The lady smiled. "Who is she?"
Oh dear.
Grandpa continued his blank stare at me.
"Who is she? Who is she?"
I wanted to intervene, but I didn't. If things had gotten harder on him, I would've, but I also honestly wanted to know who he believed I was. 
"She's..... she's.... she's my daughter-in-law."
"Oh! And do you love her?"
Now grandpa legitimately looked confused. "Of course!" he replied, bewildered. The lady wandered off. Grandpa looked at me as if he was supposed to understand what had just happened. I just smiled and shrugged. We moved on.

For months now, Grandpa has consistently called me his daughter-in-law. Who he believes I am on a day to day basis does vary a bit, but especially within these past six months, especially whenever he does name me to somebody I am almost exclusively his daughter-in-law. My mother.

That's a bit of a mind trip when you think about it from my perspective. :)

And sometimes it's not just in naming me because somebody asked. Sometimes it reveals itself in casual conversation. Take a month ago, for example.
Grandpa was relaying his day to me when he rather suddenly (and very confidently) stated, "Yup, your daddy suuure helped me get that cat out of that barn." I blinked because I was completely stumped. (Notably, not about the part about a cat in the barn, although there was certainly no current context for that at the time either.) He said it with such an air of awareness that I sat there for several minutes trying to figure out if he genuinely knew who I was. I was debating whether or not to ask him when suddenly he finished it out: "Yup, Leonard sure was a great help!"
Ah. Leonard. My mother's father.
I was floored. Despite having heard him reference me as her several times, it still stuns me a bit when it happens - to think that something in me reminds him, or at least triggers something in him, of her.

It was about three months ago now when he suddenly started asking me, "Where's little Sherri? I thought I just heard her. Did you hear her?"
Although surreal to think of myself as about five years old in his mind, my heart warmed. I realized that in his brain I was still a child and probably running around terrorizing the place.
I tried to correct him and explain that, no, I was Sherri. But he just looked at me and laughed. "No, no, no," he said, "little Sherri. She was in the dining room. I just saw her."
Ah, well. Maybe I was behaving enough after all. :)
And it dawned on me later that the age I am now is the age my mother would have been when I was "little Sherri."

And even all the way back to his first trip to his final neurologist and the doctor asked him to introduce us. "This is my daughter-in-law," he said, "and that's my grandson."
I didn't correct him but instead just shook my head at the doctor, although "grandson" was indeed correct. Later Grandpa apparently caught himself and realized what had happened. "I'm so sorry," he said, "I'm so sorry I called you my daughter-in-law. I don't know what happened."

It's okay. I don't mind. I don't mind on any count.

Why would I be bothered, hurt or upset? That you think I'm one of the women that I admire the most? That maybe, just maybe, there is something in me that you see that reminds you so strongly of her? Maybe some tiny piece of my personality brings her to your thoughts? Or maybe instead I remind you of her in her looks? Any of those things, I don't mind. I don't mind at all. I am honored and thrilled and blessed that there's even a remote chance that you might find something in me that you recognize as her.

I don't mind one bit. 

I'll be your daughter-in-law. I'll be your friend that hangs out, or random family member, or whoever you think I am that day as long as you'll let me sit and chat with you awhile. We'll drink coffee and health shakes. We'll people watch. And at the very least, maybe you'll remember me as a friendly face.

Or at the very best, your daughter-in-law.


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