Time is just racing by. Already it is May and here we are at Mother’s Day this weekend. And my mom is no longer visiting us (like the photo above) but rather, she lives with us. And I have been thinking about the whole mothering thing. Mom often comments to people that I am in charge now; that the roles have changed; that she is now the kid. And it is hard for us all to adjust to. We’ve had discussions the past few days about needing to further intervene and supervise, because she just cannot, any longer, function well without it. There are so many skills we all take for granted, that as we age, and especially with the added inclusion of Alzheimer’s, quickly rob us of our independence. I took another freedom from her yesterday. One less choice she is able to make. She balked, and complained, but only the first time. After doing it again today, she was in full acceptance. What did I do?
Well, we prepare her pills for her in a dispenser just like the one above. Mom can no longer determine which section to open next. She has been opening the AM sections in a row, or the PM sections in a row. And it is messing so badly with her brain functions. My brother suggested to just put out what pills she needs to take next to her water, and to remove the confusion of having to find the right lid to open. So he suggested we just put the pills in a cup! Mom was not happy. She was angry. And I felt bad that I had taken another choice away from her, or another opportunity to do something for herself. But when her medications are not given at the right time, the levels of the medication in her blood stream are affected, and it affects her ability to function. I mean, she is so off, she is in PJs for days, until her meds settle back in. I just cannot function when that happens. Seriously. It affects our entire family…down to our grandchildren.
This morning I set out her water and her pills in a cup…and she thanked me. She just took them, no questions, no comments. She then grabbed her coffee waiting on the countertop, and sat in her spot on the couch, happy as could be. Another weird thing? She brushed her teeth this morning – no prompting, no preparing of the toothbrush with the toothpaste. I am in shock! There are so many odd things like this with Alzheimer’s.
We have such good laughs. In amongst the difficulty, there is the joy of just being together. Yesterday mom got a manicure. She was so joyful and had the whole salon laughing. We then went to her favorite thrift shop to donate some clothes, and we picked up a top for her. They gave her a discount because of her donation and the shirt had a red tag and was 50% off. She paid $1.75 for it. And was so excited. We then went to Home Depot. Mom was chatting up people and then she just disappeared, while our heads were deep into which doorknob we needed! I panicked and found her in the patio furniture area, snoozing in a gliding chair. We then chose to go out to dinner at iHop, as it was on our way home. Mom wanted French Toast. She refused my help at cutting it for her, insisting she could do fine. And as we watched her, we knew she thought she had ordered just toast with a side of bacon. My husband silently tapped my thigh, asking me to let it go. She ate French Toast with her fingers, as it dripped in syrup. Ha-Ha-Ha. We ignored the entire thing, handing her extra napkins as we chatted. It was fine. When we got home around 7:00pm, she put on the new blouse, which she did not krecall she had purchased earlier, becoming concerned it would be too large. I reminded her we paid $1.75 for it and it was okay. She said, “Well, what a deal! I think I’ll keep it for summer.” And then she modeled it for us, telling us we had to wait for summertime to see her wear it all over town. LOL. We laughed!
The picture above is my favorite photo of the two of us. It was her first week here, last August. She was angry most of the time, but at this particular moment, she was enjoying all the attention. My stepsister and her husband had arrived. My son and daughter-in-law, and our grandchildren, were all over for a bar-be-que. It was a lot of fun. And I had no concerns about this journey, at all. (Naive that I was then!!).
Mom looked at me the other night, and I could tell it was a clear moment, and she said to me, “I am so glad you are taking care of me. We can laugh, can’t we? And we can share so much. You are strong, and I know you can do this.” And she is right. I am a lot like my mom. But I am also like other women who have mothered me in my life. My neighbor, Donna, who came into my life when I was 9 years old. I love her like another mother, but also like an older sister. And she has mentored me when my mom could not (due to the timing in our lives). I have friends who have mothered and mentored me. I have friends who are my life-lines and often an anchor; people I can turn to who will hold me up. My daughter-in-law literally held me up as I collapsed a couple of weeks ago, when I had to euthanize my 14-year-old cat. I could not have done it without her strength. My mother-in-law came and stayed with us when our middle son was born. I was so grateful she was a nurse because both our older son and I were sick. I remember waking up and she was putting my baby on my breast to nurse! What a blessing. She had the entire house running smoothly! I needed her strength, then, too. So many of us are blessed by the women in our lives. Some come to stay; others come when they are needed and leave when they are done. But these relationships with other women are a blessing in our lives. And I am so thankful for each woman who has touched me, as I have grown into the person I am now.
When my husband was ordained a deacon, he took the name of St. Joseph the Worker, because that really reflects who he is – a gentle man who works so hard for us all. At the same time, I took the name of Ruth, as I could identify with her. I felt that I was walking with my husband on this journey of life, and I would always be where and when he needed me. The Book of Ruth is an amazing book, filled with stories of incredible women. One of my favorite quotes is, “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17).
My mom has been strong for much of my life. And when she is weak, it is just so hard to wrap my head around. It is one of the role-reversals that is hard to adapt to. Many of my friends and I are in the same or similar situations – we are having to learn to care for our aging parents. It’s funny, because we also shared the times in our lives of dating, and marrying, and having our children. But at this point in our lives, and in the world, Alzheimer’s and other dementing illnesses are becoming commonplace. Our senior population is growing. And we are learning to function in this “new normal.” However, in many ways, we are returning to our roots. Hundreds of years ago, families stayed connected. We lived next door to our parents, or on the next farmstead. We kept grandma with us when grandpa died. We sometimes had 2-3 generations under one roof. And you know what? Being around our elderly is good for all of us. We learn to be empathetic. We learn to adapt and put others’ needs before our own. We learn to give, first. Our children absorb stories of our family history and develop a strong sense of where they come from. They learn to serve others, and to be quiet and listen to the wisdom of our elders. We all become better people, better citizens, and better children of God.
And this Mother’s Day, I am thankful. There is so much to be grateful for. I had not lived with my mom since I was in my 20s. And in those more than forty years since we were last roommates, we both have changed a lot. She is still my mom, and I am still her daughter. I have born and lost children; my mom has buried a husband; we have both buried friends and extended family. We have made amazing friends, and have had some wonderful experiences. We don’t agree on politics, or faith, or clothes, or tattoos, or hair color, or make up or…you get the idea. One thing we usually agree on is food! We both adore our pot roast and gravy, and a good cup of tea. And we do agree on how blessed this time together truly is – for both of us. We are engaged in sharing the best, and the worst, of what life has given us, and is still giving us. Mom is safe, housed, cared for, and loved. She is living out her days surrounded by people who love her. I can think of no better Mother’s Day gift than to be with family.