Five Weddings & My Mother’s Dementia

Posted on November 26, 2017


Weddings paralyze me. Recently, I attended a good friend’s wedding in the Washington D.C. area. The morning of the wedding, I sort of had a meltdown. Sid found me in tears, weeping uncontrollably in bed. I realized, perhaps for the first time, the real reason I avoid attending weddings, or have to ply myself with large amounts of alcohol to simply be able to be there for a little while.


Mom on her wedding day, May 18, 197

1992 – I was 11 and in grade 7. My eldest cousin (female) on my dad’s side was getting married near Pune in India. Weeks before we left for the wedding, my mom took my sister and I shopping. I still remember the very chic black & white dress with a short jacket that I wore to the reception. I even got new shoes, strappy gold & white sandals with a little heel. I remember this wedding fondly. There were a lot of dogs. I was really scared. But my mom played with them as if they were her’s!

1994 – I was 13. My eldest cousin (male) on my mother’s side was getting married in Mumbai. I was a little older than before and chose a couple of outfits from the ones I already had. On the morning of the wedding, my mother’s younger sister came up to me and asked me what I was wearing and why I was so simply dressed! I can see myself looking down at my outfit and thinking, I like this. Years later, I had a vision of my mom sitting at one of the functions at this particular wedding. I can see her sitting in a black & white temple sari. She is wearing no jewelry or make-up. Her face is blank. She is staring into space. There is music and celebration around her. But she is dazed. I don’t remember when exactly, but my sister told me that mom had worn the same clothes for two functions during this time. I still see her sitting there and I want to run and hug her. Tell her that I will take care of her and we will fight this together!

What I understand now is that issues with planning/organizing are seen in the early stages of the disease. She didn’t pay attention to her own wardrobe owing to difficulties in keeping track, so obviously she wasn’t aware of the inadequacies of mine. Loss of social etiquette is also common at this stage. This was the time issues became apparent – they may have started a long time before that.

1996 – I was 15. My eldest cousin (male) on my dad’s side was getting married. By this time we knew something was seriously wrong. Ridiculously idiotic diagnoses were thrown around from early menopause to schizophrenia to every other thing you can think of. I have no memories of what I wore. But I can still hear my dad telling a member of the extended family that Zarana, my mom, was ill and we all need to just keep her happy. I remember having no clue except that mom seemed the same to me, just a little bit different. I had not told anyone that she had given me the entire amount for monthly expenses and asked me to pay the bills.

Somewhere in between, we finally have a name of what’s consuming my mom – Alzheimer’s.

1998 – I am 17. Shit has hit the fan. We know she is never going to get better. In Feb 1998, my sister was getting married. Mom had lost all language. She couldn’t bathe or dress herself. My sister had dropped out of college to take care of her – ensure that she does not go on her daily walk and get lost. The preparations in an Indian home for a daughter’s wedding are festive. But we were muted. I remember going along with my sister to buy this and that. It was sort of fun, but I had no understanding or interest in these types of clothes. The outfit I wore to my sister’s wedding is actually the worst outfit I have ever worn. The ugliest colour. The worst fit. I did not want to participate. My mother’s younger sister came and stayed over for a week. My mother participated in all the dancing in the days leading up to the wedding. But the day of – she just couldn’t get it together. She was in a room nearby. I spent most of my time with her. At that time I thought she was my excuse. But I realize now, she was refuge. I needed her. My sister needed her. We couldn’t have her.

In July 1998, another cousin from my dad’s side was getting married out of town. Everyone was going – my grandparents, my mom, dad. I initially decided not to go. I don’t really know why. By then, my discomfort with weddings was at an all time high. A day before the wedding, I decided I would go. I had no clothes to wear. No shoes. My sister actually gave me some of her outfits. I got a train ticket and joined my family. I don’t remember much about the journey to the wedding or the wedding itself. I remember mom wearing one of my outfits (HAHA) to a function. And I remember that this was the trip when she finally lost bowel control. She was confused, angry and teary a lot. The train journey back was a nightmare. I did not have a confirmed ticket to be with my family. But when the ticket collector came, he saw the state my father was in – 2 elderly parents, one completely disheveled and incoherent wife and a young girl, and decided to look the other way.

This was perhaps the last wedding I went to for a long, long time. In 2001 or 02, one of my good friends was getting married. He invited me. But I did not go. I remember thinking that I didn’t have any clothes, plus I had no idea what I could give him as a gift. He belongs to a super wealthy family. When I look back, access to money was a big deal. Being a young person, still in college, living at home, I had no income. It’s not that my dad would not have given me money. I did not ask. He did not know. This feeling of feeling socially incompetent in weddings / large social gatherings was pervasive for a long, long time.

Between 1998 and 2001, Mom withdraws more and more into the depths of dementia. I battle anorexia, depression, self-hatred, rage, self-annihilation and the works. And then she dies. And I live with PTSD for the longest time.

In 2005, one of my cousins was getting married in my hometown. My sister gave me a couple of saris. I got blouses made. I borrowed the jewelry. Yet, on the day of – I ran away. I was angry, lonely and wanted no part of it. In 2006, six months after my cousin’s wedding, one of my best friends was getting married. I took time off work and came home early to partake in the functions. We had fun the few days leading up to the wedding. I wore the same saris that I wore to my cousin’s a few months before. However, on the day of, I just couldn’t take being in that environment. I left.

You see, weddings weren’t something that had to be celebrated. They were events that made my mom get worse. At least to my naive and innocent little self.

And then comes my own wedding in 2011 – I don’t show my wedding pictures to anyone. I hate what I was wearing. I hate how I looked. It’s all because I just went along with whatever whoever told me. I had no idea. I had no vision. I didn’t want it (the wedding). For whatever functions we had alcohol, I was heavily sedated by booze. My marriage, thankfully, is a fun and stable one.

Today, I have the money to buy whatever outfits I want. I have the money to give pretty generous gifts, but I just don’t want to go to weddings. I feel exhausted as soon as I dress up. I feel melancholic and extremely whiny. Indian weddings are the absolute worst, even the so-called good ones.

And weddings are not the only thing I am awkward with. I hate all festivals. I hate visiting family members. I also believe that families are not just the ones we were born in. Families are chosen. In fact, the people that helped me the most when my mom was sick (besides my dad and sister) were probably those unrelated to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all about celebrating! I love celebrating the little mercies in life. And I do it each day. When I find myself exhausted and depleted, I dig deep and find something to be joyful about. I find meaning in supporting others through my work and volunteering.

My mother’s illness made me carve out my own path. The myths and stigma around dementia were so bad that I had to shut everything and everyone out. I stayed in for the holidays or escaped to a friend’s house. Today, I reject all social norms – they did and do nothing for me. I create my own path and rules. I don’t need Diwali to be generous. I don’t need weddings to be reminded of the love I share with Sid. I don’t need to attend social events to make my friends realize what they mean to me – if they are my real friends, they probably know what they mean to me.

This is not a post to gain empathy or pity or sympathy. Simply put – I wrote it for me. I wrote it so that I would understand and accept myself. I have never had the understanding of society. And now, I don’t need it. It’s a great place to finally be. If there’s anything you wish to do for me after reading this…don’t invite me to social functions! Lol.