I know I’ve gone way off track with what my original intentions were with this blog but I hope you indulge my zigzagging 🙂 Sometimes when I think back on that awful trail that went from mom being mom to her being just this animated shell, I find myself thinking what could I have done better (which is nothing more than a lesson in frustration and futility) but lately I have thought about what she (and probably many others with dementia) may have felt like during this.
Mom was fiercly independent, could drive her Fords with the best of them (Dad used to call her lead foot), always made and kept that hair appointment like clock work, and at one time was quite the fashion plate. Of course later after 6 kids she turned into a mom and wore jeans and sweats but they were always neat. But when the Alzheimer’s started to take her away all of that changed. She voluntarily stopped driving or maybe dad did some subtle suggestions. At least we didn’t have to fight with her about handing over the keys like so many other families have to. I don’t envy you who have/had to!
She kept the hair appointments for awhile and then that fell off with her resorting to wearing all sorts of hats. Then she stopped bathing and would often take the dirty clothes out of the washing machine and put them back in the closets before dad had a chance to wash them. And of course there was the phone routine as I’ve mentioned before where she would call me to look up a phone number for her using the excuse of she couldn’t find her phone book, read the print in the phone book, or just yell at me to do it because she was my mother and she was asking me to do it! She used the guilt card as long as she could.
Sometimes she would look embarrassed when she would forget something and other times she would get angry…at one of us. But in hindsight, she felt both. She knew, for awhile anyway, that something was wrong and she couldn’t do or remember things like she used to. Fear, anger, and embarrassment were probably all mixed in there and she had no idea how to handle it. Adding insult to injury, we didn’t have a clue about what the hell was going on either so we had the same emotions going on except we weren’t the ones with dementia. We could still drive and cook and do laundry properly. All those skills were leaving her bit by bit and all she could do was thrash about in frustration.
I will confess to not being the kindest most sympathetic person in her world when she was going through the early stages of this. I was dealing with raising young children in a crumbling marriage and having two sick parents (dad had diabetes) added to that mix made me a frustrated and angry person which sometimes came barreling out at mom and the rest of the world. I had my fears too! I was afraid that I would be stuck with taking care of them (which turned out to be about 80% true) I was afraid taking care of them would take a big amount of my time (it did) and I was afraid that I was losing my parents. No matter what we may say or think or how old we may be, we will miss our parents when they are gone. In this case my “mother” left me long before her body decided to leave. I had a mom but she wasn’t mom.
Caregiving ain’t for wimps let me tell you but conversely, being the one cared for ain’t a walk in the park either. Imagine having someone you gave birth to now doing for you what you once did for them – bathing, dressing, feeding, etc. Imagine that you can’t do for yourself things that you have done for decades – dialing a phone, driving, playing a piano, baking the cake your other half has always loved. And imagine leaving the home you once knew to live in a strange place with strange people who hopefully are going to take good care of you. Heck! I freak out when I can’t find my phone or keys or recall a name let alone having to deal with what those with Alzheimer’s and dementia must go through. It is scary! I wish I had known this when mom was alive and had shown her some kindness instead of my frustration. Once I began to come to terms with mom and this damned disease I became kinder to her and in turn I wasn’t as angry or fearful.
Recently the hubby and I were leaving the grocery store to head to it’s gas station when I noticed an older gentleman wandering the parking lot searching for his car. My dementia antennae went up! As we pulled into the gas station I jumped out of the car to watch him wander back and forth among the rows of cars. Finally I told the hubby I’d be back and I walked over to the man and with a warm smile I asked him if he needed help with his car. He was embarrassed but I knew what to do. I asked him what color was it and what make. I made jokes about not knowing a Chevy from a Toyota unless I could see the name on the car.
I talked gently to him as we walked back and forth looking for his white Chevy. Couldn’t find it so I asked him did he remember if he parked it close to the store or further back; eventually I asked him if his car had an alarm on it. He wasn’t sure and said he just had new tags put on the car and that’s why he was confused (I knew that as a sign of embarrassment) as he handed me the keys. Fortunately his keys had a button on them that when pressed would sound the horn. I pressed, it honked, we found the car! He thanked me and apologized for not recalling where he parked. I smiled and told him it was alright and we all forget where we park in these big lots sometimes. But before I went back to hubby waiting at the gas station I showed him what button to push to sound his car’s horn if he needs to find it again.
He drove off slowly and I prayed he got home safely without hurting himself or anyone else. Was he in the early stages of dementia or just an old guy with a momentary lapse in recalling where he parked? Either way it happens and is happening across the globe…but I’m so happy I stopped to help him; to ease his fears that day.