Often we don’t know what we are Born To deal with.
It certainly wasn’t in my conscious life plan that I would end up having power of attorney and being responsible for the care of my mum as she has increasingly bad dementia. Two years ago she moved in to a care home for some respite, and has ended up deciding to stay there.
I have found it heart breaking at times to witness her memory deteriorate. So as well mums care, my other priority is to look at, understand and manage my own reactions to her and the illness, and see what it triggers in me.
For me, the better I can manage how I am “triggered” by her behaviour, the better the son and carer I can be for her, and also it is the way I live my spiritual path; to find ways of becoming more at peace with the places within me that I am not at peace with.
Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest triggers for me has been a sense of helplessness and even tipping in to despair at times. I have felt unable to change anything, to help mum, to enable her to see things differently. I have often felt like I have failed.
A couple of months ago, she had a really bad couple of days, and when I spoke to her on the phone she kept saying that she was ill and that no-one believed her and they wouldn’t let her see a doctor because they thought she was putting it on. I went over to see her and she was saying the same things. The home did get a doctor to see her, and as the doctor was writing up notes at the nurse’s station after seeing her, I went in to see mum. “They won’t let me see a doctor,” was the first thing she said to me. I felt devastated. Here she was, having just seen the doctor, but unable to remember, surrounded by care, but feeling no-one was caring for her. I just cried.
But I had a bit of a breakthrough ten days ago.
Mum was 85 on September 24th. I had arranged with my cousin Peter to go see her at the care home in Old Windsor, and then take her to Marlow for lunch. Mum was born in Staines and used to go on family holidays to Marlow, so it holds a special place in her heart.
It’s hard to know what mood she will be in, and she has also been agoraphobic, so sometimes she simply doesn’t want to leave the care home because she is scared to go out.
This time, gladly she was up for it, so after giving her presents, a balloon and cards, Peter drove us to Marlow and the three of us had a lovely lunch in a gastro-pub. Mum told the same stories over and again, but she was happy to be with us and to be in Marlow. We drove back to the care home and they had baked a cake for her with her name on and the staff and other residents sang her happy birthday. It was a happy time.
I then went off for an hour to decompress, have a break and run a couple of errands, and then returned to the home to have a cup of tea with her before I headed home to Finchley.
When I got to her room, she looked up at me and said, “No-one has wished me happy birthday. Nothing has happened at all.”
At this point I instead of feeling crushed and defeated, disappointed and helpless, I felt different. I knew we’d had a lovely time, even if she had no memory of it happening. Instead of feeling upset, I felt OK, and accepting of her response. I could just accept “She has no memory of the lovely time we had,” without needing to be upset about it or change it, or label it as sad or tragic.
Something had shifted in me, I felt truly accepting and more at peace rather than resigned and helpless. In a funny way, I can see that mum and her illness are my teachers, helping me to see the places in me that I am not at peace with.
The “upside,” if I can call it that, of the dementia, has been that mum is now often more open and expressive. We now tell each how much we love each other every time we speak by phone and I visit. She tells me how grateful she is for keeping in touch with her and that I make her day when I call and when I go to see her.
For all that we have lost, there have been some wonderful gains too.
Have you been through this experience with a loved one? I’d love to hear some of your experience.