“When life hands you Alzheimer’s, embrace it.” I was my mother’s primary caregiver to Alzheimer’s. And if I had heard that statement while I was in the thick of care giving trenches, I would have quickly dismissed the advice as superficial and one-dimensional. But as a recovering caregiver, I realize the power of that statement. Unintentionally and unrehearsed, I did embrace Alzheimer’s during the early stages of this journey, and that very act fundamentally defined my experience, converting an otherwise stressful journey into a mindful and meaningful series of life lessons.
In the beginning I’ll admit that I was afraid of the disease. Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease, but behaves like a parasite chiseling so many cognitive cracks that it eventually moves in to become a full time resident. I was afraid that my mother would get lost in the web of this fatal disease, and I wasn’t emotionally prepared to let that happen because it meant letting her go.
So I did my best to keep connected to her, by doing what I could. I prepared homemade, single-portioned meals to fill her refrigerator. If she was going to lose her mind, I thought, let it happen on a full stomach. At the very least, it made me feel like I was still in charge. But during those quiet moments when truth becomes easier to swallow, I would admit to myself that my mother was falling apart before my very eyes and it would put me into a panic-stricken tailspin
What I did is to develop a series of compassionate mission statements to meet each phase of the disease. I called my first mission statement ‘Safety and Happiness,’ and I used it to guide me in making thoughtful decisions about my mother’s medications and decisions about moving her into a facility designed for dementia patients. As the disease progressed, my mission statement also changed to ‘Peace and Simplicity,’ and this is where I discovered how to stay connected with her beyond words. Like anything in life, the more I looked truth in the eye, the less panic I felt.
Celia Pomeranz, USA