03/19/2014 11:41 am ET Updated May 19, 2014

Why I Freely Express Emotion in Front of My Child

Elizabeth Flora Ross

My dad's decline continues. The other day, my mom went to visit with some paperwork she needed him to sign. He didn't know how to sign his name. He had forgotten how.

It was the most recent in the noticeable signs the dementia is progressing. It was very hard for my mom to take. She left me a message on my cell phone, and at the end she started crying.

When I got the message, I was at the pool in my mom's community with my young daughter, who was having a swim lesson. We were right around the corner from my mom's house, and I knew we needed to stop by.

After the lesson, we played in the pool for a little bit. When we were ready to leave, I explained we were going to have a quick visit with my mom, who my daughter calls "DeeDee."

"We need to go to DeeDee's and give her a hug, She's having a very tough time today."

"Is she sad about BaBop?"

"Yes, she is."

"I wish DeeDee and BaBop could live together again and be happy."

"I do, too, sweetie. But that's just not possible."

"Because BaBop won't get better."

"No, he won't. As we've discussed before, he is going to get worse. That is what dementia does. It makes it so your brain doesn't work the way it is supposed to anymore. The sickness is taking away BaBop's memories."

"His memories?"

"Yes. He has a hard time remembering things. Basic things. And someday, he may not remember who we are anymore. He won't know I am his daughter and he won't know you are his granddaughter. It doesn't happen with everyone who has dementia, but it is common. We need to be prepared in case it happens with him."

"He won't know us?"

"It is likely there will come a point when he does not. But there is no way to know when it will happen. It could be tomorrow, it could be a year from now or more. Whenever it happens; it will be hard for us."

"But we will know who he is."

"Yes, we will. And we will always love him. BaBop can't help what is happening to him. This isn't what he would want, anymore than it is what we want. It just is, and we're trying hard to make the best of it."

When we got to my mom's, I could tell she was uneasy. I went to hug her and she pulled back. Hesitated. She knew if we embraced, the tears would come. She motioned toward my daughter and shook her head, indicating she didn't want her to see that.

"It's OK to let her see you cry," I told her. "It's important, even. The more open we are with her about what we're feeling and the more we let her see how we are working to process everything that's happening, the better she will be able to process it. She will sense our feelings one way or the other. If we try to hide them from her, she will believe she needs to hide hers, too."

And so my mom fell into me and I held her while she sobbed. As if I were the mother and she the child. Across the room, my little girl sat in my dad's favorite chair, sucking on the lollipop her swim instructor gave her. In her tiny voice she assured my mom, "It's OK to be sad, DeeDee."

A friend of mine recently referred to my daughter as "an old soul." She has wisdom far beyond her years and demonstrates the art of grace whenever it is most needed. She amazes me. Later in the day, back at our own home, she brought me a piece of paper and asked me to help her write a note to my dad.

"Sure, honey. What do you want it to say?"

"Dear BaBop, I love you. I will always love you, even when you don't know who I am."

I was the one who could not hold back the tears at that point. I let them flow freely as I kissed the top of my sweet daughter's head.

"You are a very special little girl," I managed to say, "And I 'm so lucky and proud to be your mom."

Dementia is cruel. But life can be cruel in many ways. Perhaps by watching this all unfold and seeing how we as a family deal with it, my daughter will be better prepared for the adversity she will face in her life.

This post originally appeared at The Writer Revived. It is part of a series I will be sharing here concerning my family's journey with dementia, and how it impacted my parenting. My father passed away March 10, 2014.