Friday, January 23, 2009

Sometimes I Forget

When a person has Alzheimer's, higher level thinking skills are compromised. This fact should be obvious, I suppose; but the difficulty is that Alzheimer's patients like my mother are still able to present a normal facade to the world.

For fifty years of my life, my mother was able to counsel me with understanding and compassion for whatever trial I was enduring. Now, she's unable to do that. You'd think I'd adapt. After all, I'm the one who still is ABLE to adapt.

Yesterday afternoon I was upset because someone had hurt my feelings. As I took Mother for her walk around the driveway I told her all about it as I would have in years past. Mom not only was unsympathetic, she was downright snippy toward me and took the other person's side.

You see, Mom is always annoyed when I make her go for a walk because she doesn't remember that she lives a completely sedentary life. It seems to her that I'm forcing her to do something that she doesn't want to do, something she feels to be unpleasant and unnecessary; and her conclusion is that I'm doing this for some diabolical purpose of my own. She goes along with me because it her policy to be agreeable, but she can't quite be cheerful about it. As I spilled my hurt to Mom I did not think about the fact that she is able to process only one emotion at a time, and that whatever she is feeling colors all of her perceptions.

All of us are affected by mood and emotion, but the dementia patient loses the ability to function cognitively on more than one level at a time; she has no memory of moments in the immediate past upon which she could build a logical perception of her present moment. When my mood causes me to be grouchy with my husband there is a part of me that knows I'm being unreasonable, the part that pushes me to apologize later. Mom has lost that ability to analyze herself; she has only the input from the moment she is in. If she is annoyed then I must have caused it. Case closed.

It isn't that I should stop confiding in my mother; one of the blessings of the long goodbye of Alzheimer's is that I am still able to laugh with Mom, confide in her, talk with her. But as Mom's caregiver, I need to think about how she is perceiving her environment and how she is feeling before I make myself vulnerable through a confession of my hurts or frustrations. As her daughter I must remember her love for me (past and present) and mine for her, and let all of my actions toward her be governed by that love. As a child of God I need to remember that the Lord is my Shepherd and is sufficient to meet all of my needs.

Sometimes I forget.

Scripture: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wounds Not My Own

As my children were growing up, I learned that my prayers protected their hearts from hurtful words and actions launched toward them by others. Time and again I've felt amazed that my children could take painful situations in stride. It was as though arrows of hurt bounced off a strong shield of armor around them.

My own heart was a different story, however. I became aware of the need not so much to guard my heart--intercession precludes closing down spiritually--but rather, I learned to quickly take every heart hurt to the Lord. Otherwise, as I labored in prayer and cried out to the Lord on my children's behalf, I was crippled by the pain of those hurtful situations myself.

A similar phenomenon is occurring with my mother. Mom doesn't get many phone calls and has averaged no more than two or three visitors a year since she has lived with us. My children make it a point to stop by her room for five or ten minutes when they can, but this doesn't occur often. And yet, Mom is amazingly content. Although she loves visits and phone calls, she never complains when they are lacking, and will make excuse for those who fail to call or write to her. My heart is the one that withers with pangs of rejection!

I call it "projected rejection." I identify with my Mom and I think about how I would feel if I were in her place.

As a caregiver it is unexpectedly difficult to maintain a separate identity from the person who receives care--especially if that person is a loved one. Caring for Mom and working to understand her thinking patterns has led me to the point that I can very nearly see from her perspective, and sometimes the lines between my own experience and hers become blurred. My mom and I have always been so much alike. Now, that fact terrifies me. I fear becoming old and being forgotten. I suffer in advance the emotional pain of being rejected and feeling unloved--projected rejection indeed! It hasn't happened yet but I'm terrified that it might!

The Lord has not equipped me to handle a life with little interaction with friends because I am not the one who needs that particular armor--I am not my mother! I'm praying today to be able to separate my identity and where I am in my life's journey from that of my mother's, even as I care for her, anticipate her needs, and attempt to understand how she thinks.

It isn't easy! Lord protect me from projected rejection!!!