Costumes & Dementia

In yet another milestone of aging, Cookie and I had no Halloween trick or treaters come to our door this year.  This wasn’t really a surprise of course, as we live in a duplex in an Assisted Living Facility.  In some respects, you could call us the youth movement of the facility.  There was a Halloween Party in one of the bigger buildings on site, but neither Cookie nor I had a costume.  Well, that’s not totally accurate, because I do wear a costume, though many folks don’t really see it.  It is the costume known as Early Onset Dementia.

Costumes are designed to cover up who we are, and perhaps, to become someone or something else for a while.  The more intricate the costumes, the better they work.  As a Police Officer in Madison, Wisconsin, I worked the Annual Halloween Party sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  It was a huge event, drawing many thousands of people, most of them in costumes.  For many, the costumes served as a way to achieve anonymity, and to do things they might not ordinarily do.  People were crammed together elbow to elbow, the beer flowed freely, and it was pretty much a party on steroids.  Most of the police were on foot, and it took a while to get anywhere.  And then there were the traditional comments from people each year: “Oh Officer, I just love your costume.”

Still, all in all, they were fun events to work.  But they could sometimes be dangerous too.  The police radios were pretty much useless, as the noise from all the whooping and hollering, the loud music, and other such things drowned out the dispatcher.  If you got into trouble, it was sometimes the old “one riot, one or two rangers” to the rescue.  For those of a criminal bent, the anonymity provided by their costumes was a license to touch others and steal.  But for most folks, the parties were fun, and they had a good time.

As William Shakespeare once said, “All the worlds a stage, and we are all actors actresses.”  These days it’s a whole different costume that I’m wearing, and one that I suspect many others with Dementia wear too.  It’s the costume that says things are okay when they’re not.  It’s about pretending that the weird things going on in one’s brain are only a product of aging.  It’s a costume of pretending that everything’s fine, when they aren’t.  I suppose it’s what the Brits called “keeping a stiff upper lip”.  I wear my costume when I’m out and about, but in the evening, I find myself pretty much overcome with exhaustion.

I do believe that Shakespeare had it right, and that most of us wear costumes.  I’m working on shedding mine, because wearing it takes too much energy.  I can only be who I am, a guy afflicted with Dementia.


Fr Dave


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