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).