Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fear Schmear

I've mentioned before on this blog that my mother suffers from Alzheimer's.  And what a damn cruel disease it is.  Mom is currently in the advanced stages and we've recently had to put her in an elder care facility because of her medical and daily needs.  Fortunately we were able to find a wonderful facility but, even though wonderful, it's still incredibly hard to not be able to care for your own parent and, worse, see them live somewhere besides their own home.  It feels all sorts of wrong.

At first, my brother and I really struggled with the care facility, despite its homey decor, sunny windows, and nurses and caregivers who my brother and I routinely refer to as "saints."  There was a lot of guilt and fear for us, mostly because so much of it was unknown and unfamiliar.  But yesterday, I heard my brother laughing as we visited with Mom.  Mind you, I haven't heard a lot of laughter the last couple of months and it sounded like Vivaldi.  We were seated around a large table, having lunch with Mom and some of the other residents, all of whom have varying degrees of dementia and Alzheimer's.  To my left, sat a resident named "Mary" who proceeded to tell me all about World War II and her experience with the Coast Guard.  To my brother's right sat a new resident, "Sylvia" who kept asking my brother if he wanted coffee.  Between us sat Mom who kept smiling and laughing whenever my brother laughed.  Whenever my brother laughed, the rest of the table laughed and smiled too.  Then it dawned on me: the place had become less scary because we had finally begun to get to know the other residents.  We didn't always hang out in the privacy of my mother's sunny room. 

One thing I've learned is that Alzheimer's patients respond to kindness and touch.  Hold their hand, listen to their stories, acknowledge them and suddenly the nightmare stops feeling so scary.  With my mother, we've learned to cherish her moments of clarity, even as they grow more infrequent.  She's still Mom.  We can still see who she is in the brightness of her turquoise eyes, regardless of what she says or doesn't say.

When I visit Mom today, I'm actually looking forward to talking again with Mary too, even though she won't remember a single thing we talked about yesterday.

10 comments:

Angelina Rain said...

I'm glad to hear you found a good home for your mom. I bet it's scary not knowing if you're making the right decision and some of those places are better then others. Hope you are doing well.

Joanne said...

What a journey life takes us on, filled with beauty and pain at once sometimes. I'm glad, too, that your mother is in a good home and being well cared for ... Enjoy your visit today!

Karen Walker said...

Oh, Liz, I so get this. I couldn't take care of my dad and had to put him in assisted living. He didn't have Alzheimer's though. My singing group, Sugartime, goes to sing at Alzheimer's facilities and we have learned we can reach them through music. For some reason, the music touches them in ways we don't understand and triggers connection.
Karen

Tracy Jo said...

So hard and something I fear as well. What a couple of months it has been for you. All at the same time, this is such a beautiful post and love how you are getting to know the other residents. Hang on to those positive moments!

Heather M. Gardner said...

My heart breaks for my husband as he watches his father slip further away. We can only love him and hope that he knows he is loved.
Thinking of you.
Heather

Nikki said...

This must be so difficult to go through. I'm glad that you are getting to know other residents and that it's helping a little. In Oslo there is this garden that is created for sufferers of things like Alzheimers. It is called "Great Granny's Garden" and is filled with all kinds of old flowers and cozy benches. It is said to help sufferers by feeling like a comfortable, familiar place. I think it's such a nice idea and it's always nice to hear about the little things that can make people feel better.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Find that moment of happiness and hold on to it.
Just think of the joy you are bringing to the other residents!

raelynbarclay said...

Beautiful Liz. I used to work with seniors, some with early dementia, and loved listening to the stories. I'm so glad you've found 'home' in the facility. That you've found laughter again. Live in the moment. Enjoy your visit today :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I'm so glad you're finding laughter again. What Karen said about music reaching Alzheimer's patients is so true. Pictures, too. If you carry an old picture album to the home and look at it with your mother, she may be able to share some wonderful stories with you.

Trisha said...

I'm glad that you guys are able to see a positive in all this. You are both very strong people!