The mule that lives in her head

My mom and I visited a friend of ours with early-onset dementia. She’s only 56 years old and is in an advanced memory care facility because she tried to kill her husband a few times defending her home from the stranger (the husband that she wasn’t recognizing due to the disease process). Her husband, a very devoted and loving man, had no choice but to put her in the facility, and he visits her as much as he possibly can. He tears up just talking about the situation.

Our friend was wearing a very flattering sunflower print shirt and a pair of slacks when we arrived. My mom and I weren’t sure what to expect or what kind of day she might be having. Her husband had just left a short while earlier, we found out from the nursing staff, and the nurse accompanied us to find our friend, saying that she might be getting her nails done. We found her, sunflower shirt and all, eating a cookie and visiting with another lady in the hallway across from the dining room. The nurse told her that she had visitors. She turned and saw my mother with a look of recognition, which was a relief to me. She gave my mom a big hug and my mom, introduced her to me, whom she didn’t immediately recognize. I was glad she recognized my mom because they were such great friends for so long.

We went into the dining room to sit down and visit. On the way, our friend insisted that I take her half-eaten cookie and that it was for me. I couldn’t dissuade her, so I graciously accepted it and saved it to give back to her after she had forgotten about it, which didn’t take one, it turned out. We visited and she would keep referring to her mule and “him”, giving “him” commands and telling us she had trained “him”. She had many mules before her illness set in and loved them and trained them well. She was always very good with her mules and loved them dearly. It became very clear to my mom and I during our conversation with her that the mule lives in her head. She was very happy and in good shape, reaching across the table and holding my mother’s hands for the majority of the time we were there. She recognized me briefly, asking when I got out, referring to the military, and I replied that it had been almost 20 years. She kept asking every few minutes if I ever see her son, and I recognized a pattern of approximately 30 seconds to two minutes of memory capacity with her currently. She definitely knew who my mother was, though, and my mom asked her if she remembered some of the things we all did together 25-30 years ago. She would recall the events and laugh. It was so good to see her, and to see her happy. She gave my mom a huge hug before we left and I gave her cookie to her, which she was surprised at, as if she had never seen it, and thanked me for. I told her I loved her.

Her dementia was not as bad as it could have been, but it was severe. My mom and I were glad we had stopped to visit her and even more pleased to see her happy. I know she will remember that my mom visited, and that’s very comforting to me. As for remembering me, it’s okay if she doesn’t remember. We’ll visit again. In the meantime, she has the mule that lives in her head.

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