Dying While Dressed Wrong

Dementia has no fashion sense

Stacey Curran

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I lost it the second I spotted her, perched on the edge of her bed.

I was laughing so hard I could barely talk. My hysterics prompted her to mimic me.

When I finally composed myself, she stopped laughing too. I then asked my mother if she knew what I found so funny.

“No, but I like laughing,” she said, as she laughed more, deepening her tone, as if imitating a man’s voice. She rocked back and forth.

She was wearing the most outrageous gold and black sweater dress. It was surely a relic of the early 1980s, and most definitely did not belong to her. It was form-fitting, short, involved some polyester, some shiny lame, and many gold threads. There were black lightning bolts sewn onto it, and into it somehow.

Just a few months earlier, I would have seethed, and stormed to the nurses’ station for an explanation. But I’d adjusted my expectations for nursing home care so many times by that point, I just found humor in the absurdity. She wasn’t upset, so I wasn’t going to be upset. Together we cackled.

But on the way home I broke, and sobbed like I did nearly every time I drove away, and left her there, untethered from anything she knew, this time dressed in someone’s 40-year-old dance club dress they threw in a trash bag and hauled to the nursing home as a donation, rather than fill their trash barrel.

My original mother would’ve died if she saw that dress on a hanger, let alone on her body. I could imagine her colorful commentary about it, as she was a meticulous dresser, who kept lists of her outfits so she wouldn’t repeat them too soon. Now she sometimes sat in the same thing for days, until I changed her, or a caring staff member noticed. The indignity of being in someone’s cast off may have destroyed her more than the diaper it covered. But she didn’t know about either.

She went into the facility with her clothing, and we saw nary a shred again. By the time it was all over, there was barely a shred of her left. Her intellect, her wit, her actual body, stolen, like her sweaters I’d see on other residents.

At the end of visits, I’d always say goodbye, and walk out, then I’d walk back into her room a minute…

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Stacey Curran

Former journalist; few N.E. Press Assoc. Awards, few Boston Globe Magazine essays, @TheBelladonnaComedy @Slackjaw @BostonAccent, @WBUR, grocery lists.