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).