I delivered Mom's evening meds at 9:00 this evening, as usual. I was startled when I offered the little cup of pills only to have her snatch it out of my hand in one angry movement. She spat out, "Did you ever just want to have a mental fit?"
I was so surprised that at first I just froze and stared at her with my hand still outstretched, but then caregiving instincts surfaced and I stepped back, appraising her carefully from head to toe. Nothing seemed amiss other than the angry expression on her face.
Her voice softened and she said, "Oh, I don't know if I can make you understand." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "It's a feeling of being useless. You just ask yourself, 'What good am I?'" She opened her eyes, downed her pills, and set the container aside. Matter of factly she said, "I'm questioning the Lord and that's a sin. Besides, I shouldn't say anything because no one cares or wants to take the time to understand."
I sat down. "The Lord is using you to bless us," I said. "Having you here has allowed me to work just half time because you pay me a salary. I love my job now. And just think, if you hadn't gotten Alzheimer's, we'd probably never have built this beautiful addition onto John's and my home. We'll enjoy this for the rest of our lives, thanks to you and Dad."
Mom looked directly at me and then, with no indication of having processed anything I'd said, repeated almost verbatim the same speech she'd just finished about feeling useless and how no one cared or wanted to take the time to understand. I realized she was looping (my coined term for the way she will sometimes repeat the same series of comments over and over with just a few seconds pause between) and to break the loop I said, "I think you do a great job Mom. I'm going to bed now, good night." And I went out the door. As I left I looked back at her. She was shaking her head and rolling her eyes--I'd proven her point. Her perception was that I didn't want to take the time to understand. I'm sure that if I'd remained in the room she would have repeated the same information again. Perhaps I should have tried harder to break the loop, but I've learned through experience that this is difficult to accomplish, especially in the late evening.
I was shaken because for a moment I'd let my caregiving persona slip and had spoken to Mom as I would have in the past, when a true reciprocal conversation was possible. My dad's been dead 12 years but I've never forgotten his face, or the way his hands looked, or how he grinned and wore his hard hat at a jaunty tilt on the side of his head. But tonight I couldn't remember my mother as she used to be. That woman has been overshadowed by the mom I now have, the one who had just hurt my feelings by not hearing or understanding me when I tried to share my heart with her in order to comfort her.
The Lord directed my thoughts to a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Samwise is attempting to refresh Frodo's heart by reminding him of the beauty of their home, the Shire. "Can you remember, Mr. Frodo?" asks the faithful Sam. But Frodo, injured by the journey and carrying a heavy burden, could not remember. Later, after the ring is destroyed, Frodo says, "Sam, I remember now..."
Tonight I felt frightened of forgetting the wonderful mother I once had. I feared that this travail through Alzheimer's disease would blot out my memories of who my mother once was because of who she has become. I believe the Lord has told me tonight that once the caregiving burden is gone, that my memories of my mom as she was in the past will be restored. A further and more glorious truth is that once Mom's burden of Alzheimer's disease is removed and she is safe at home in the Lord, her memory will be restored (see Philippians 3:21). This Alzheimer's burden is temporary.
There's joy and rest to be experienced here and now, in the midst of this journey, and in the Lord both my mother and I have hope for tomorrow as well.
Scripture: "...hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19 KJV).