Dementia. “What’s that word?” my mother asked my sister the other day, when the nurse accidentally left her chart in plain sight.

“Oh, that’s the name of the doctor,” my sister said. “Doctor Dementia.”’

Whew, another quick save—maybe. My mother never did like the hard facts straight up, and ever since we received her diagnosis three years ago, we’ve had to practice the spur-of-the moment dodge, the ingenious distraction, the white lie….

Dementia: it takes a blizzard of white lies to soften the hard edges of that ugly word. To me, it’s as ugly as cancer—no, uglier. If I play the harrowing game I played as a child, which-would-you-rather?, then I would a thousand times rather have cancer than dementia. For the deep-down conviction, deluded or not, is that I could still be me if I had cancer, even a rapidly advancing fatal cancer—so long as it didn’t produce dementia. Isn’t this the horror of dementia, the way it subsumes identity, devours the who of who I am?

“What will happen if I forget myself?” my mother asked the other day.

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