Left or Right?

It’s been almost two weeks now, and I can’t bear the thought of visiting her. I have no excuses. Her assisted living community is one mile from my job and three miles from my home.

I’m avoidant. I’ve always been. I let the piles pile. I become paralyzed with inaction.
I spend a tremendous amount of time planning to visit. I tell myself I’ll visit her on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then, I’ll leave work with the intentions of visiting, but when I get to the stoplight on Route *insert number for the once country(ish) now very suburban highway*, I turn right. I tell myself I need to pick up my daughter first.

Once three-going-on-thirteen year old is secured in her carseat, I drive away from her preschool, and I’m faced with the same dilemma: left or right? I turn right. I consciously choose right. Always right.

You see, it’s too close to dinner time, and I don’t want to disrupt my mom’s schedule. Her 8 am breakfast, 12 pm lunch, and 5 pm dinner have become an anchor, a necessary routine that holds her, I’m sure, in the here and now, when so much else is uncertain for her. I turn right because my daughter is cranky, and I don’t want my mom to turn to me, mouth agape and ask, “What’s wrong with her?” when my daughter, smiling wildly, refuses to put her shoes back on and carelessly runs down the hallway.

I turn right because my day has been especially difficult, and I’m exhausted and can’t bear the wave of pain that swells over my head and crashes into my heart when I leave her.

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“I turn right. I consciously choose right. Always right.”

And I have plenty more excuses.

My mother’s 64 years old and living with Frontotemporal Dementia. She has the behavioral variant of the disease, and it’s labeled bvFTD for short. I’ve watched her decline over the last ten years with same avoidance that keeps me turning right. I was always attributing her behavior and personality shifts to one things or another– and many times rightfully so.

My brother passed away 12 years ago. Most people say she was never the same after his death– but more on that another time. Then, my parents divorced seven years ago. It was a tumultuous decade. Who could blame her for being a little off?

But she was more than off. And, this past summer– August 15th– when we met with Johns Hopkins’ FTD specialist and he confirmed the looming diagnosis that two other neurologists danced around for the last six months, I felt unbelievable relief.

All the while, as the neurologist and I are discussing her diagnosis, she’s making silly faces at me. She’s sticking out her tongue and rolling her eyes.

The neurologist looked at my mom and asked: “Has anyone ever told you that you have a brain disease?”

As expected, my mom rebuked the diagnosis and was back to making silly faces within seconds.

My relief was brief, and as soon as we stepped out onto the streets of Baltimore, my head began to swim. I couldn’t find the parking lot, and as you can imagine, neither could my mom. I kept turning right and was completely shocked and frustrated when my series of righthand turns left us smack in front of the doctor’s office from which we had just come. My mom, who had been happily walking and saying hi to everyone we passed, was now getting a bit anxious; she didn’t want to miss dinner, and before I could stop her, she asked a security guard where the parking garage was for Johns Hopkins.

We needed to walk a block over and take a left.

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