Friday, November 6, 2009
Serving with Courage and Love
On Father’s Day I wrote about my dad who suffers from Alzheimer’s. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. For that recognition, I am writing about his caregiver, my mother. Given all the other service oriented activities she has been part of: PTA, scouts, Little League, and church, this would not be out of the ordinary. But my father is the fourth family member with Alzheimer’s that she has given, or directly supervised their in-home care.
Her first experience with the disease came with my father’s parents. I cannot remember when they were stricken, or what their ages were. I remember their 50th wedding anniversary; my grandmother was 58, and my grandfather 12 –15 years older. They both seemed fine at the event. But shortly after that my mother began to make more and more visits to their home. They lived about 40 miles away and my mother made several trips a month to take them to the doctor, for haircuts, or to make sure they had food in their cupboard and refrigerator. My father’s sister lived a few blocks away from them, but because she was a single mother and worked full time, she had little time left to spare.
My mother was truly the sandwich generation, as I had three younger brother’s still living at home. I know that home and child care were her career, if not verbally chosen, by unspoken agreement, between my father, his sister and herself. It was a given, because she didn’t “work”, that these responsibilities would be hers. Even though the current social climate touted women’s rights, liberation and the importance of career, my mother’s dreams of being a writer were squeezed between appointments and errands and all the other aspects of her busy life and giving nature. She had no time to think about whether or not she was liberated.
With the death of my paternal grandparents, the needs of her own parents, crept in and once again began to take over her life. When her own mother began to develop the same types of symptoms that her in-laws had shown, she moved them from their farm in the country, which was two hours away, to their own new home about a mile from her own. Her older sisters were two states away, and the burden of care for her mother fell on her shoulders. Once again her time was spent in the busyness, stress and exhaustion of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. As her mother’s condition worsened, they tried a care facility. Its effects were devastating not only to her mother, but also to her father who could not handle the toll the confusion it brought on his wife. Luckily my mother found a dear friend who took over much of the burden of caring for my mother’s parents the last few years of their lives. Despite the help, my mother was very much involved in their care. She was continually at their home doing what she could and again, the sole driver for appointments and outings.
After a few years respite, the ugly signs of Alzheimer’s appeared in our family, this time afflicting my father. After her experience with her mother and in-laws, one might think she would be an expert, but not so. Seeing your parents change into people you no longer know, cannot be the same as having your beloved spouse of almost 60 years, not only not recognize you, but demand that you leave your own home.
My mother has risen to this challenge with fortitude, determination and a sense of humor. She has become an expert on the holistic treatment of this disease, and in a sense, she has won. Whether it is the day-to-day battle or the full war, only time will tell. My father continues to live at home. Each day he takes a handful of pills and vitamins that have allowed him to retain enough of his personality to care for his physical needs and for the most part function as a small child in their home. The war will be over when my father is taken home. Hopefully that will happen sometime in his sleep and then my mother will be victorious, as she has finished this last act of marital service and love. I cannot imagine the emotional pain this has wrought on her, and the torture she has felt as she has lost her soul mate, bit by bit. Her perseverance and optimism are amazing. Her example reminds me that we are never given more than we can handle. And through this all, she has developed her talents and her career. The disease and her life have given her a story that she shares in a blog, www.annromick.wordpress.com. Eventually there will be a book – an example of courage and service for other caregivers and her legacy of service and love to her family.