Different Paths, Same Destination
I was talking with an old friend in the supermarket the other day and I have to admit, it was almost as if we were exchanging war stories. I think that happens often when two or more caregivers get together. Taking care of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s changes the life of the patient, and it changes the lives of the people who love them and take care of their daily needs. Incontinence, food texture, hygiene, and patience are all battles waged on a daily basis and fill conversations.
It is never easy to watch a person engulfed in a merciless disease. They don’t see themselves as we see them. They don’t understand their thoughts are no longer lucid. They don’t understand their sentences are seldom finished and if they are they don’t make sense to anyone else. They are frustrated, impatient, and eventually angry in a way we can’t understand. They express their emotions to the only people they can, the people who are there for them every day.
Most of us watch the six o’clock news, maybe discuss it a few minutes, and then go on with our lives. We take normal precautions to insure the safety of our family. A dementia patient might remember something from the six o’clock news days or weeks after hearing it and become stressed about it. My friend mentioned coming home to find her husband sitting with a pistol aimed at the front door when she walked through it. Thankfully, there was no tragedy that day but it could easily have been a very sad day for their family and friends. The firearm is no longer present in the home but the truth is, it is impossible to keep the home danger free when someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes I want my mother to be the woman with the hearty laughter again. I have moments when I feel like I am losing myself to the stream of cleaning, medicating, researching, and worrying. Those are the moments when I want to hug my mother tightly, look her directly in the eye, and beg her to please not forget about me, or her grandchildren, or the little dog who so faithfully watches over her day and night.
I write about this journey I am taking with my mother to ease the stress and ache in my heart. I know her voice will go silent someday and she is barely walking now. She asks how many people are working here and often looks at me as I enter the room and announces to the air, “There’s my mother. I knew she would be back.”
I sit and write down my self-perceived mistakes just to pass the time. I go over them like I check and recheck my store list to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. I try to remember when this carousel ride began and for the life of me, I cannot pinpoint the descent into this dark tunnel.
Until recently, my mother recited the names of her brother and her sisters nearly every day. I think she was determined not to forget them, not to let them die along with her other memories. She has become quieter and quieter over the last few weeks and even when I should be sleeping I can’t get my mind to shut off and allow me to rest. I cherish the moments when she has some clarity and calls me by name.
I often feel guilty about the time I cannot give to my adult children, my neighbors, and my own dreams and desires. I fret about not being able to keep up my appearance the way I once did and I still struggle to keep my home immaculate. Taking care of someone else is physically and mentally draining at times but I remind myself over and over again that my mother can’t help losing her memory, her thoughts, or her youth.
Then I cross paths with someone dealing with far more than I am and it humbles me. The friend I talked to in the supermarket is dealing with her husband and his late stage Alzheimer’s. She is also bearing the pain of knowing her young granddaughter is fighting a battle with cancer. Her son is going through problems in his personal life. I know she wishes she had more time to devote to them but she must take care of her husband first.
As we walked away in separate directions the other day I promised to keep her and her family in my prayers and asked her to keep my family in her prayers. God brings us comfort in times and ways we aren't expecting.
© Dianna Doles Petry