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INQUIRY ON DEMENTIA

 

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, this being our final sitting for this session, I wish to add a few words to this inquiry, if I may.

I'm not quite yet ready. I've been preparing for quite some time, but I think my lack of readiness is more emotional than anything else, because this is a topic that is very close to my heart. I shall read what I have prepared and then finish the rest spoken from the heart.

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to this important inquiry, though I do not yet feel prepared emotionally to do so. It has been nearly a decade since my mother first displayed signs of dementia or something out of character, for she still is very elegant in her own way. It was very unusual to see some of the signs of this confusion from dementia.

It has been three years since she has been in long term care, but regardless of age, regardless of circumstance, your mother is your mother and you are her child.

In preparing my statement to this inquiry initiated by our colleague Senator Raynell Andreychuk -- with whom I have shared laughter and tears about our mothers in long term care -- I'm reminded of two movies that capture the transformational experience of living the same day again and again. Like Bill Murray's character who lives Groundhog Day over and over again in his path to enlightenment, and Adam Sandler's character who has to live every day trying to get the love of his life -- who cannot retain any new memory beyond a car accident -- to fall in love with him again and again on 50 first dates.

Depending on the day of the week, I have the opportunity to relive several different days every time I visit my mother. Because of the effects of dementia on her memory, every day is, in effect, the same day, much like in the movie Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates. The cast of characters and the plot differs, of course, but the central themes are the same.

First, what you resist persists, and acceptance brings freedom. I quote from a movie analysis that I came across on the Internet that I think captures this theme very clearly:

When we get beyond denial and resentment over the conditions of life and death, and accept our situation . . . then life ceases to be a problem and we can become authentic and compassionate.

The incredibly dedicated staff where my mother is now living has taught me to go with the flow of my mother's sporadic memory or lack thereof. The elimination of stress is what they say is most important in caring for someone with dementia. If my mother is doing something odd or different than the ordinary, rather than trying to correct her and trying to focus and fixate on that mistake, to just go with the flow. It's kind of like creative writing or creative storytelling, but that release or letting go of what we have learned our whole lives to do has been quite liberating.

For my mother, what I've noted is, in her health, she had a lot of rules and societal norms under which she lived. She was very eloquent and a very well behaved, proper individual. I could go on and on and explain, but in essence, due to her dementia, or the loss of memory of these rules under which she was bound, she has let that go. As a result, I feel I'm getting to know the mother underneath all of those confines of society. What I see is just her genuine love of people, and her absolute ability to be in the moment and enjoy something as simple as a glass of water.

Through letting go, I have really come to experience the joys and the essence of life more and more.

The second theme is that pain and beauty are our constant bedfellows. One allows us to experience or appreciate the other and vice versa.

All individuals who are caring for their loved ones who are going through this very difficult ordeal of losing control of one's mind or whatever else, it's a very painful process, especially for the family who knows the loved one a certain way. Yet, through the most incredible, painful and challenging moments, I've also witnessed some of the most beautiful essence of human character and resilience of the people involved.

Some of the people caring for my mother have been working in this home for 20 plus years. How can they come to work every day, do what they do?

If you have been on any of these floors or facilities, you understand what challenges they would face, and yet they're able to treat every day and every moment as if it is their first time.

For instance, these two care workers, talking to one of the residents in a wheelchair, will approach him and say, "Who cares for you?" His answer is always, "Victoria Secret models.

That's right." They have this daily conversation, which is played again and again, every time they go to serve him. So they are Victoria Secret models, and he is the luckiest man in the world.

The pain and beauty that comes with this whole experience is something that in a way I would not trade, and yet at times I wish I could just lift the weight from my heavy heart so that I don't have to worry so much. Yet this is the experience I have had, and I wish to share with you.

Honourable senators, I guess the last theme that I wish to bring to your attention is simply that all we have is the moment, the eternal moment of now. Because of caring for someone who has no short term memory, my mother, when I leave the room for two or three minutes and come back, she greets me as if she hasn't seen me and it's the first time she is seeing me. That ability to live life moment by moment is, I think, the true key to happiness.

With that, I thank my honourable colleague Raynell Andreychuk and all those who have spoken to this very important inquiry. And may each of us be blessed in our health to be able to appreciate the moments as we are in them, including this one, and also to love those who are in our lives, to the best of our ability, and that each of us can live life to the fullest. It's a cliché, and yet through my mother's illness, this is what I have learned.

I wish all honourable senators, if I can take this moment to say: Thank you for the work you have done, and let us enjoy the rest of the moments that are to come in this sitting.

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