#Shakespeare400: “How Sharper…”

Last week, my sisters and I placed my 84-year-old mother in a nursing care facility. We represented our other six brothers and sisters in this decision. We were a united front.

My mother has dementia, and even though we know that this is the safest place for her care, I know she will believe that she has lost her independence.

Nothing could be further from truth.
We had hired help 24/7 in the home for the past two years.
We had taken precautions. We refitted the bathroom. She was not allowed to drive.

The illusion of independence was maintained by my sister who kept coins and small bills in her purse during outings. Laundry was done in advance. Food was brought in. Cooking was done while she slept.

My mother operated as though she was in charge.

But the time had come. There were too many hazards, and she could no longer stay in her home.

We are fortunate to have the  financial resources to place her in a lovely apartment in a memory care facility. We had done research, and we were lucky that an apartment was even available in the place we selected.

The night we brought her to the apartment, it was decorated with all things familiar-photos, furniture, lamps.

Her initial reaction was surprise.

“That’s my husband’s picture!”
We had removed it from the dining room wall while she sat softly humming at the dining table the day before.

We had also taken the photos that hung over her bed.  They now hung in the same order over a smaller twin sized bed. For two days, she had not noticed that we were removing these things from her home.

“Those are my children…,” she explained pointing to the wall.
She listed off names…an embedded list of her children in an order that has so far survived the ravages of the disease.

She did not understand for several minutes…but our repeated comments, “This is your apartment, Mom,” set off some alarms.

Then, suddenly, she knew.
Panic set in.

O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven
Keep me in temper: I would not be mad! (King Lear I.v.45-46)

She began to plead. She did not want this.
Her roars were quiet, but they were fierce.lear

” Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!” (King Lear III.ii.1-3)


“You are cruel,” she told me.

“Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!” (King Lear I.iv. 281–289)

These lines from Shakespeare’s King Lear surfaced in my brain all week.

This deeply personal experience of caring for a parent who is ill -like so many of Shakespeare’s themes-is a universal experience.

I am not the first to hear him so perfectly express the language of loss and frustration because of age.
His language transcends time, place, and gender.
His words captured my mother’s rage.

My mother’s view of her “thankless child” will hopefully disappear.
The only good part of dementia is the forgetting.

I hope she forgets every time.



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