Despite Dementia, It’s Still Important to Look Good

This morning, while folding a half-dozen of Aunt Jo’s tops and pants, I notice a wrinkle in the seam of her new green-and-beige jersey knit T-shirt.

“Wrinkles!” I let out a loud laugh and head to the closet for my ironing board.

The only aspect of my aunt’s appearance she ever allowed to wrinkle was her nose. She was proud of her Roman nose and believed, in fact, that her distinctive proboscis linked our family back to Ancient Rome, not to the hardscrabble soil of Southern Italy.

Typically, Aunt Jo ironed her outfit for work the night before, but if a seam were out of order as she dressed, I would find her in the basement that morning, standing in her bra and slip in the dark. “Oh, Dori, how nice to see you,” she would say and smile, as I switched on the light.

Yesterday afternoon, she repeated her familiar greeting as I walked into her room at the nursing home. My aunt was put on hospice in early December, which is why I can visit her despite the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. “Oh, Dori, how nice to see you,” she says.

Today she is wearing one of her favorite sweaters from the ‘80s, a fluffy, cowl-necked sweater striped in lavender and gray. “Doesn’t she look nice?” says the CNA (Certified Nursing Aide), stepping back and beaming as she brushes a bit of blush and eyeshadow on her “fashion lady’s” cheeks and lids. “Are all these clothes for me?” Aunt Jo asks, as she watches me unpack, a delighted smile on her face.

My aunt sits in a wheelchair all day, captive to the end-stage dementia that has begun to erase her memory. Why bother with makeup and ironed clothes, when she cannot remember her own wardrobe from week to week?

Because hearing her say, “Oh, Dori, how nice to see you,” and catching a glimpse of her old self—just for a *moment—is enough. I cannot stop the process of her decline, but at least I can wash her weekly wardrobe and, for now, iron out the wrinkles in her clothes.

Did you know that hospice is available in cases other than when death is imminent? Or that your state may allow in-person visits under “compassionate care” guidelines?

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