Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cup of Coffee, Please!

While clenching my teeth and biting my tongue this morning, I had a flash of insight; maybe because I was multitasking and managed to pray in conjunction with my tooth grinding/tongue holding exercise.

Mother had asked me to get her a cup of coffee. If I had a true servant's heart, such a request wouldn't annoy me, would it?

One of the most difficult aspects of caring for an elderly parent has to do with the reversal of past roles. Mama used to meet my needs, now I'm supposed to meet hers; and this is an ongoing heartache for an only child who was once the apple of her mother's eye. I think I'm still the apple of her eye, but for different reasons. She calls me, "My Linda," and you'd think I'd smile when she says that. I do not smile. The little voice in my head, the one you shouldn't listen to and probably won't hear if you are rightly aligned with the Lord says, "She doesn't give a flying fig about your well being. She only cares for you because of what you do for her."

Back to the flash of insight. It came to me quite clearly, not quite in time to prevent me from grimacing in Mom's general direction but it did cause the sharp retort that had been threatening to spill out of my mouth to be silenced.

The ability to ask for help outlasts the ability to "do" for oneself. Put yourself in your mother's place, and imagine that your thinking processes are compromised as you know hers to be. Getting a cup of coffee is a complex task. You must stand up. While occupied with the mechanics of standing you are very likely to forget why it was that you stood up to begin with. If you do remember your task you then must orient yourself to the room, remember where the coffeepot is kept, and navigate your way across the room. Once having arrived at your goal you must procure a cup, remove the pot from the burner and pour the hot liquid. But wait, it isn't hot. You must use the microwave. The coffeepot won't fit back into its slot and you can't see what is wrong so you leave it stuck at an angle. How to work the knobs on the microwave? And when all of these maneuvers are successful, your mother must then negotiate her walker, a cup of hot liquid and her uncertain balance to get back to her chair. When you respond negatively to her requests for help, you take from her the dignity of being able to adjust to her limited capacity to function by learning a new way to get what she needs--she asks! Behaviors that in the general population would be labeled as "lazy" are, in the Alzheimer's patient, coping strategies developed to adjust to a lowered level of functioning. Your mother is doing a good job. You, not so much.

In our former lives, my mother rarely asked me to "do" for her. I have clear memories of her jumping out of her chair to see to my comfort, to make me a sandwich or to mix up the special frosting I used to like to eat between graham crackers. And if you think these are childhood memories--no. We retained our mom-as-caregiver/me-as-child roles right up to the time of her diagnosis four years ago. So you can imagine, it was quite a shock for me to learn to be a caregiver. I guess most adult children have difficulty seeing the new limitations of parents who have become elderly, and I had somehow managed to judge my mother as a caregiver who was failing to perform her job well. This, despite the rather obvious fact that she was both physically and mentally incapacitated.

I'll get it Lord, I will. Thank You for helping me. And forgive me for my failures to be Christlike in my caregiving of Mom.


  1. Am sure you'll get it...
    But most of all remember this that for an Alzheimer patient the most important medicine that you can give is your TIME and LOVE and your promise that no matter how difficult the road gets that you'll always be there for her..
    You may not get anything in return but if you value your time with her now,then there will be a sense of happiness that will guide you along your way..
    my best wishes and prayers for you and your mother always:)

  2. Thank you for your comment! God bless you, Linda