Last Saturday my mother-in-law celebrated her 94th birthday. To mark the occasion, my husband, son, and I went to see her at her nursing home. She was feeling fine so we took her out for a birthday lunch. At 94 years of age, this is not an easy thing to accomplish, but with the help of her walker, her wheelchair, my husband's supportive arms, and given all the time she needed to manuever, she managed quite nicely.
We went to a nearby restaurant that she had been to many times before with us and with other family members. What we had forgotten was how dimly lit this place is even at lunchtime. It was a problem because my mother-in-law is losing her vision. It's been a long time since she was able to read and now even discerning the outlines of objects around her is becoming difficult. I was startled on a previous visit when she was unable to tell if it was me or my husband who was standing next to her until I spoke. Fortunately for her, she still retains good hearing, and I think she relies on that more than we know to decipher the world around her.
A darkened restaurant out of her normal surroundings proved to be rather confusing for her. When she asked us about the dog sitting on a nearby table, I knew she was struggling. I felt so empathetic. I know what it's like to try and pull meaning out of something that doesn't seem right and to come up with the wrong conclusion. There wasn't a dog on the table. In fact, we never did figure out what she was looking at that seemed doglike. Without my own experience with a diminished sense, I would have been sure that she was becoming mentally unsound. Yes, her memories have gotten a bit mixed up and sometimes my husband is her son and other times he's her brother. But in this case, I think there was something else going on.
We rely on our senses to provide us with the cues that help us understand our surroundings. When one of those senses fails, our brain tries to fill in the gaps but isn't always successful. When we're placed in a challenging situation (think a noisy crowded party for those of us with hearing loss), we're bound to make a few mistakes. As long as we're with people who love us, it will be okay. The important thing that is that we're together and we're celebrating life.