"Coleslaw for breakfast?" Mom asked. "I've never had coleslaw for breakfast."
"It's not breakfast, Mom," I said for the 15th time in the 30 minutes since Mom had been awake. "It's 6 o'clock at night. It's supper."
"What? No!" she said. "It's early in the morning!"
"You slept nearly the whole day," I remind her. "And now it's time for supper!"
She takes a bite of her coleslaw. "This is delicious!" Chews a minute. "I've never had coleslaw for breakfast."
It's a circular conversation. Anyone with aging parents—with or without dementia—is familiar with looping: this repetition of ideas, questions, stories.
The stories always begin as if this is the very first time she's ever told them.
"My mother was a good cook like you are. She used to make food for Dad's store and people would line up to buy it."
"I loved to sit on the porch swing with Mama. She lived right across from the junk yard, and we'd watch people bring their junk."
"I loved my Dad. His store was across a busy road and I ran away to get to him, but I got stuck in the mud before I got to the road. I could have died."
"I used to love to watch Shorty kill the cows. He'd thump 'em on the head and they'd fall over."
These stories are having their last telling. Who will tell them after she's gone? I may tell my own children and future grandchildren how my mother told these stories, but I won't tell them with the same first-person gusto. I don't hold these memories myself, these memories of folks long, long gone, of a time when a woman would sell angel food cakes and German potato salad at a neighborhood grocery.
The looping is endless. Oh, we know all the right things to do. We smile. We answer a question, again and again. We listen to a story and smile. We exude patience, love, and kindness.
But let's be honest: The looping drives us bananas. The looping is hard, and we just want to shout: I JUST TOLD YOU THAT! or YES! YOU'VE TOLD ME THAT STORY 600 TIMES BEFORE!
Hang in there, caregivers of aging parents. You're not alone.
I repeat: you're not alone.
(Did I mention... you're not alone?)