Yes, it has been almost two months since I have posted in this journal. And many thanks to the folks who have pinged me to see if all is well in my world. It is.
My self-imposed sabbatical has not been the result of a single catastrophic event. But rather the accumulation of a series of small events. Each unto themselves would be easy to digest. But when served in mass, they morphed into a beast of their own, reminiscent of a family dining table groaning with all the trappings of a Thanksgiving feast. Quite honestly, I would have preferred a light summertime repast of a fresh green salad and salmon cooked to perfection on the grill.
Since we last chatted, Mother’s Day has come and gone. And my mother’s 94th birthday. And Memorial Day. And I celebrated these holidays amidst the chaos of the past few months. I have come out the other side with a greater appreciation of life’s simple pleasures which can be discovered, but only if we choose to look for them.
My biggest challenge has been finding, not the time, but the desire to write about my experiences in dealing with my mother’s physical and mental limitations. I seem to have hit that wall that so many of us caregivers do…we who are dealing with an aging loved one suffering from dementia.
I came to this stunning realization just last week, when I took my mother for her quarterly checkup with her family physician. A visit with our good friend, the “Doc”, whose support and encouragement have been invaluable to me. It has become painfully obvious that my mother is deteriorating at a much higher rate than ever before. And while this is to be expected at her advanced age, I suddenly realized that I am not as emotionally prepared as I thought I would be.
SPLAT. Yepper…that is the sound of me hitting that wall.
My mother’s physical abilities are continuing to decline. While she is in no more discomfort from the arthritis than she has been in the past, her mobility is becoming increasingly limited, which is affecting her daily activity. Yet it is the deterioration of her mental abilities that is the most heart-wrenching. Because recently, I have noticed we are moving from her short-term memory getting worse with each passing moment, to a marked confusion associated with her long-term memory.
At first I thought it was a slip of her tongue…a reference to a 60-year-old event in which some of the details got skewed as she shared her memory of the experience. But she is starting to repeat the same slips as she recounts the same story over and over again. Perhaps I should be thankful for her consistency.
I am finding myself in new territory. Unchartered waters, so to speak. Because over these past few years, I have developed the methodology to deal with her short-term memory loss. And now I must develop a methodology to deal with her long-term memory loss.
Do I correct her when she makes those slips of the tongue? Or simply smile and bob my head and let it ride? Does it really matter if she incorrectly states where she lived at the time, or when and where she worked at the time? Who is it really hurting if she can no longer correctly recall those details that, until just a few short months ago, where ingrained into her conscious thought?
And adding icing to our proverbial cake, my mother initiated a new pattern of behavior during our visit with Doc last week. Typically, the three of us sit and chat during the exam, and Doc will ask my mother how she is doing, including gently questioning her on how well she is remembering things. For the past few years, my mother has acknowledged that she cannot remember as well as she could before. But has always added that it “only just started a few weeks ago”.
This time when Doc asked her about her ability to remember, she again acknowledged that she does forget a lot now and said that if you tell her something, she will most likely forget the information until a much later time. If she remembers it at all. And for the first time ever…in all these years I have been taking her for her quarterly doctor visits…she looked me in the eyes and told Doc that I would be the better person to answer that question on her behalf.
DOUBLE-SPLAT. Yepper…that is the sound of me hitting that wall again.
As I met my mother’s gaze, I mentally took a deep sigh, then told it like it was…with as much diplomacy for her benefit as I could muster, while still maintaining the truth of it all for Doc’s benefit. And the relief I saw in my mother’s eyes was poignant. She wasn’t imagining her memory loss. Nor was she denying it. The simple act of hearing me describe it to Doc had made it a stark reality for her.
TRIPLE-SPLAT. Ouch…that one hurt.
Sometimes we are elected to a role which we have no desire to pursue. We wonder how the heck we even got elected in the first place. Other times we will embrace a new role and take ownership of it and run with it to the final conclusion.
My role as my mother’s caregiver is ever evolving. My duties vary as her needs change. My responsibilities increase with each day that passes.
Yet I cannot help wonder what the end of this journey will bring. Not literally…as I know what the final outcome will be. Duh-yup. But what new experiences will I have encountered? What new insights will I have learned? And I have to wonder, just how many more walls I will have to hit?