Night falls so rapidly in December, and early too.
I know my mother doesn't like darkness staring at her from her bay window; I don't like undrawn shades at night myself. But this evening it was 5:20 before I noticed that afternoon had faded to an early night. Sunset in my area was at 5:04 p.m.
I decided to prepare supper for Mom before I went in to pull her shades. She's always happier if I am not empty-handed when I appear at her door, especially when it is near meal time. If I thought about the darkened window at all--and I don't think I did--I would have concluded that the lit Christmas village on her window sill would keep Mom's attention from the undrawn blinds. Supper preparation took about 15 minutes.
And so by the time I entered Mom's room, she had probably been staring at the dark windows for thirty minutes or so. I don't know why she didn't call me as she usually does when she wants her shades drawn, and I don't know why that this evening it bothered her so much; sometimes she is absorbed in journaling or reading a book, oblivious to the window. But tonight she was angry, and I think she had drawn the conclusion that I'd left the shades undrawn in order to torture her; thus she fell to the mindset of a victim who wishes her torturer was gone from the face of the earth. As I covered her feet with a warm blanket and placed her supper plate on the lap desk before her, she let loose with a venomous string of hate-filled words that literally left me reeling. I did not at first connect her anger with the undrawn shades and was stunned.
I'm blessed to have children who pray, and texted off a prayer request to each of them. My son called and said, "You know, Mom, the other night when Dad came to help me with my remodeling project, I thought about how loved I am and how much you two have done for me out of that love. And I thought how painful it would be if either of you got Alzheimer's and turned against me, and that helps me to pray for you more with Grandma. But I also know if that ever does happen that remembering how much you all love me now will help me to know that anything negative is just the disease."
How often we hear that, "It's just the disease." But tonight the truth hit home for me. Alzheimer patients believe their caregivers know everything. If they have pain, they think the caregiver knows. If a tooth hurts, or nausea strikes, or a darkened window frightens, a dementia patient believes the caregiver knows all about it and leaves the problem unaddressed. And they are prone to believe that this lack of action indicates that they are unloved. The hurt that flows from this sense of being uncared-for is probably the source of the most of the angry words and actions they exhibit that cause us as caregivers so much distress. It isn't their that their love for us has died, it is that their perceptions are inaccurate.
My children and I prayed together for Mom. Their love was such a blessed balm tonight. When I went in to see Mom awhile later she was happy and calm. "You are just wonderful to me Sweetheart, thank you," she said.
Our tendency is to dismiss the positive because there has been negative, but that isn't love's way. My son reminded me tonight of something I really had forgotten: my mother loved me and supported me for the first 50 years of my life. That hasn't changed; the eleven subsequent years of our Alzheimer's journey can't undo those years of her love and service. Mom loved me, and loves me still. Anything negative is just the disease.