Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I remember when I was laboring to give birth to my daughter. A machine had somehow been wired to my body in order to measure the strength of my contractions, and the nurses would ooooh and aaaaah during a particularly intense contraction as the monitor displayed a kind of bar graph in motion with indicators shooting nearly off the display screen.

"You must have an extremely high pain tolerance," one said.

"Are you sure you don't want something for the pain?" queried another as she dabbed my brow with a cool, damp cloth.

My husband clutched my hand and stared into my eyes with an agonized expression that, on this occasion, had nothing to do with his football knee or his arthritic back. His compassion was all for me, and even in the midst of bringing forth a child I was gratified by the empathy.

I've always thought of that wondrous machine to which I was attached during labor as being a "pain-o-meter". Today it has occurred to me that we all ought to wear a portable version of that apparatus in our everyday lives. It could measure stress and exhaustion, assign a numerical value, and display it in graph form. We could all wear our stress-o-meters where everyone could plainly see our tension levels; perhaps as a kind of jumbo necklace with an electronic display.

I envision myself coming home from a full day's work that has followed a sleepless night, only to find that my mother's cat has eaten a plant and has then thrown up in three of the four rooms of her apartment. In my vision I drag myself into our part of the house as my husband walks in the back door, and he sees the reading on my stress-o-meter.

Deeply alarmed for my welfare, he exclaims, "Darling! You must sit down! Let me get you a cool drink! Don't even think about doing another thing tonight! You need sustenance, let me get your supper! I'll call my mother, maybe she'll make your favorite dessert! I'll call our children to come home and minister to your needs!!!!"

Well, I really didn't sleep last night, I had a professional development meeting today; the cat did throw up all over Mom's apartment, our respite care lady is out of town, Son called to say he was bringing his friend-who-is-a-girl home for the weekend, and Daughter needs us to keep our 14-month-old (adorable and full of energy) child on Sunday. Obviously, no one can see my stress-o-meter.

Trouble is, if they could see mine, I'd undoubtedly get a load of theirs. Son carries 17 hours of college courses, maintains a good GPA, recently endured a painful breakup with a girl who was perfect in every way (except for her desire to live and work in Africa), and carries an activities schedule that would drop a cart horse. Daughter chases aforementioned 14-month-old around her home with no break 7 days a week--and the child doesn't sleep very much at all. Thus, neither does Daughter. Husband is coping with a farm, a sewer leak, and two trucks that need repairs.

OK. I know what to do...

...Dear Lord, I am weary. Please strengthen me and help me. I lift my loved ones to You. Enable us to empathize with one another and to bear our loads together, in Jesus' Name I pray, Amen.

Scripture: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" Galatians 6:2

Friday, April 24, 2009

Comic Relief

Last evening my husband and I were having one of our periodic disagreements. I can't remember what started it but it ended with my comment that there were sure a lot of dandelions in the yard and his observation that I made mountains out of molehills. Both statements were true.

Things were not yet quite comfortable between us when my beloved spouse opened the phone/satellite dish bill. He came striding into the living room where I was seated on the couch, and waved the bill under my nose. "How do you explain THIS?" he demanded.

There were two separate eleven dollar charges for movies. One was entitled "Jugs of Joy." I've forgotten the title of the other--or have blocked it from my memory. Both movies were from the Playboy channel.

I said, "OK, do you REALLY think that while you are out working on the farm that I'm home watching "Jugs of Joy"??

He sheepishly admitted that no, he really didn't think that. We looked at each other and both of us started to giggle. The tension was broken between us and we began to problem solve, trying to think what might have happened. It is to our son's credit that neither of us suspected him--but at any rate he had been away at college on the date the movies were rented. The mystery had to remain unsolved until this morning. I called the DISH TV people and talked with a very nice young man who immediately removed the charges from our bill, no questions asked. He told me how to check the purchase history on our receivers, which I did. On the receiver in the main part of the house I was relieved to note that there was no record of a movie rental, unsavory or otherwise. I turned toward Mom's door in doubt, not seeing how she might have managed to select those movies and purchase them--but when I checked her receiver there they were. I locked the system, established a password, placed ratings blocks on the selections Mom could see (as I'd already done on the main receiver but hadn't thought to do in Mom's room) and made it out of her room before I began to laugh out loud. I'd known that Mom sometimes used the complicated DISH remote and that she has trouble navigating her way around the 100 channels in our basic package. But purchasing a movie requires several steps and I hadn't thought she would be able to accidentally complete the transaction.

Poor Mom. Maybe she thought "Jugs of Joy" was a Christian station. I just hope and pray she didn't actually begin to watch the movie. The shock wouldn't have been good for her.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Uh Huh

A good part of my purpose in writing about my mother's Alzheimer's disease lies in my determination to help you, my fellow caregivers, to avoid the pitfalls into which I so nobly allow myself to plunge. Sure, I regularly respond to my mother as though she were the mom I once knew, the one who didn't have Alzheimer's. I do this so I can then write about the caregiving blunders I make. That way, I am able to protect many caregivers from making similar mistakes. I do it for you.

OK, not really. Bottom line is I'd like there to be some valid excuse for the way I keep making the same caregiving errors over and over again. My latest gaffe lies in the way I just can't seem to keep from responding in irritation to my mom even when I know she can't help the behavior that I find annoying.

You see, my mother can't remember what's happened five minutes ago, but she's a smart lady and has developed an effective coping mechanism. The strategy that enables her to cover her lack of knowledge about what has transpired in the immediate past is this: no matter what I say to Mom, she acts as though she already knows about it. She has a variety of ways of conveying this, but the most annoying response she makes to any piece of news I bring is a simple "Uh huh." It looks so innocuous in print, but Mom packs a lot into those two little syllables. There's a hint of exaggerated patience, a definite touch of long-suffering, and a superior little lifting of the voice at the end of the last syllable. She'll sometimes elaborate by saying, "You told me that earlier" (even if I haven't), but just on its own, the "uh huh" is enough to set my teeth on edge.

Another symptom of Mom's short term memory loss is that nothing is ever her fault. Because she does not remember that she is the one who spilled the coffee, clogged the sink, or stashed the coffee filters in the wrong drawer, she takes accountability for nothing. I know she often thinks that I am the one who committed these small domestic crimes, and even more humiliating I know that she must believe that I have an unfortunate tendency to blame her for wrongdoings I've committed. After all, since she doesn't remember she's made the error then someone else must have done it, and I'm the person who is most often in her line of vision.

The surface annoyance I feel over all of this masks deeper sorrows; I can no longer share news with my mom and expect the empathy and understanding she would have shown me in the past; and when my mother has committed some small wrong against me, she no longer says that she's sorry. On days when I'm feeling lonely and am missing the way I used to be able to talk with Mom, I am particularly in danger of responding to her in annoyance when she is only trying to cope with her environment in the best way she can. To state it baldly, it is when I am in a self-centered state of mind that I'm most likely prone to be cruel to Mom by punishing her through my display of irritation over the fact that she is unable to nurture me as she once did. This is sinful behavior on my part.

To be a good caregiver I must be able to empathize with my mother's inability to remember. I must do the heart work required to see things from her perspective. In order to manage this I have to find all of my fresh springs in the Lord, and thus relieve my Mom of demands for which she no longer has a supply.

Scripture: Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, 'All my springs of joy are in you" (Psalm 87:7 NASB).