Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Proposed Change of Focus

I waste a lot of time feeling angry with my mother because she asks me to do things for her.  Even though it has been seven years since Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, I don't think it will ever become automatic to me to respond to her as a caregiver rather than as the daughter I was to her for the first 40-some years of my life. 

"Would you close my drapes...get me a diet coke...adjust the temperature because I'm hot (or cold)...get me a box of kleenex...bring me some crackers to enjoy with my coke..."  Each one of those innocuous requests causes me to press my lips into a thin line and to act annoyed with my mother.  

When Mom is too warm, it doesn't occur to her to remove her sweater.When she is too cold, she doesn't consider covering her lap with the quilt that lies draped over the arm of her chair.  She is, however, able to discern that she is uncomfortable and to ask me to do something about it. 

Dementia patients tend to develop a pattern of responding that, in the general population, might be labeled "demanding," or even "lazy."   The problem is that the ability to ask for help outlasts the ability to perform the multiple steps required to complete a task independently.  Asking for help is a one step cognitive process, while performing a task independently requires the ability to carry out several steps in a process.  However, when a patient requests a caregiver to do something that the patient is physically capable of doing,  the natural caregiver response  is annoyance.

The problem is compounded when the patient is someone who once provided nurture and support  for the one who has become the caregiver.  Role reversals are a hallmark of the difficulties experienced when a daughter or son becomes the caregiver for a parent.

I know all of this.

But I still become annoyed when I'm treated like a servant rather than a daughter. 

This morning Mom called me into her room and asked me to adjust the volume on her music channel.  Before I made my escape she added,  "And I'd like my coffee warmed, please."  I complied with her requests somewhat ungraciously, and then headed to the kitchen to make cream cheese mints for my son's upcoming wedding reception.  I made this task into a mini-holiday in the midst of my busy day by watching a movie on my laptop computer as I worked.  Nipping an occasional taste of the minty-sweet dough as I formed lilies and leaf shapes, I enjoyed the respite.  

The movie I watched was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  As I shed tears over the farewell scene at the end of the film--it is so evocative of the goodbyes we must say to loved ones at the end of life--the Caspian character uttered this line, "I've spent too long wanting what was taken from me, and not what I was given."  

I found myself frozen, staring at the computer screen, and replaying those words in my head.  I am very good at describing in wearisome detail the exact nature of what I've lost.  But what about the gifts I've been given?  There've been many these past few years, even in the midst of Mom's Alzheimer's. 

I consider myself to be at a transition point on the timeline of my life.  Because my position as Reading Recovery teacher has been phased out due to budget cuts, I've chosen to quit my job after twenty-two years as a teacher.  My son is getting married this summer, and I find myself with a rather unacceptable amount of angst over giving my youngest child in marriage.  My mother fades day by day due to Alzheimer's.  

I've done an awful lot of talking and writing about the things I've lost.  

What if I focused on what I've been given, instead? 

I'm trying, Lord, I'm trying.  I'm working hard today to see the gifts I've been given in the midst of the final scenes of so many chapters of my life.  

Scripture:  "You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy" (Psalm 30:11).  


  1. Linda, I found this post while looking around on the internet. I love your post here. I too am a caregiver to my husband who is 12 yrs older than me , i am 55, Him 67. He has been ill for many years with heart disease and other ailments. Anyway our last 10 years have been difficult with alot of changes. It was refreshing to hear someone else share the struggles we have as our roles in life change.In my case I have gone from wife to caregiver.We have been married 30 yrs. It also appears you are a Christian, as am I.

  2. Yes, dear Debbie, I'm a Christian too so we are related through Him! I hope you found something here to help you today, and I'm saying a prayer for you right now as you minister to your husband.

  3. Linda and Debbie,

    These verses were in my morning devotions on Monday. Christ said in John 13: 14-16 from The Living Translation: "And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them."

    May you each be blessed for washing feet and other tasks.
    It is a joy to me to discover how I can serve my AD husband.

    However, my current struggle, is dealing with his anger--a Christian husband who swears and lacks his former patience. I covet your prayers for my coping with his anger.

    Remembering both of you in prayer.


  4. Carol, as I analyzed myself in light of the Scripture you shared. I said to the Lord, "But You know I don't mind washing feet when it is MY idea and not my mom's!" My current struggle is against that adolescent rebellion that rears its ugly head when my mother orders me around, as she's taken to doing every time I walk through her door! New challenges arise as we progress through the disease with our loved ones. I will pray for you re coping with your husband's anger; now that's a real caregiving challenge, dear Carol! God bless you.

  5. Wow! I've been struggling with these very feelings this week and have been praying for the Lord to help me.. and here you were! :-) My sin is that I resent working when my loved one is not. I've struggled with this sin once before, too. I'm trying to discern what is at the heart of this ..literally. What is this situation revealing in my heart? A love for pleasure? I like to work.. I just don't like it when someone else is not working. Why? I'm a mess!