Friday, December 13, 2013

What I Ought to Have Said...

Many of my verbal interchanges with my mother are followed by the vexing realization that I did not say or do what I ought to have said or done.  I often react rather than respond to Mom when she is hurtful; she is my mother still and so it is difficult to keep that lifesaving caregiver's mindset when she uses her still-intact knowledge of me to hone a custom tailored insult. 

And sometimes my unhelpful reactions come, not because Mom is being hurtful, but because she is manifesting some new symptom of this hateful disease.  After all these years it is still my knee-jerk reaction to protest and deny rather than accept and support whenever Mom does or says some new crazy thing. It is so difficult to detach from the disease and its symptoms but to remain emotionally connected to the person who is still present, but that is our challenge as caregivers. 

I've recorded a recent interchange with my mom below in the hopes that other caregivers can learn from my errors!  Background info:  Though Mom listens to a weekly sermon and is provided many faith based books, we do not now and have not ever in the nine years Mom has lived with us utlized "Sunday School material."

How it went: 
(My cell phone rings) 
Linda:  Hi Mom
Anna Ruth:  (Impersonal, as one speaking to a mail order clerk):  Hello, I was calling to ask whether our Sunday School material has come in. 
Linda:  (moment of dead silence, then in a tone that clearly says 'What the HECK are you talking about?):  What Sunday School material???? 
Anna Ruth:  (Haughty)  Well, if you don't know we study from Sunday School material, I do not know how to help you.  (hangs up)

How it ought to have gone:  

Linda:  Hi Mom
Anna Ruth:  Hello, I was calling to ask whether our Sunday School Material has come in.
Linda:  I will check on that and get right back to you about it.
If Mom had persisted I could have named a specific time when I would bring the material to her.  It would not have been difficult to find a devotional from my bookshelf that would have satisfied her request for the time being.

 I must not say, "Oh well she'll forget about it," and dismiss her requests.  I need to respect her communication attempts and prayerfully work to figure out what unmet need she is trying to convey.  In this instance Mom wanted to actively seek the Lord and felt at a loss as to how to manage this.  The solution is in a file on my computer desktop, a set of devotions I wrote for her some time ago, each linked to her favorite hymns.  Like a birthday card signed but not mailed, I haven't followed through on this project that was surely the Lord's nudge for me to provide for my mother.  I'd better have those printed and bound for Mom for a Christmas gift.  

The rules that emerge for me are these:  1)  Don't react to Mom's words from an emotional perspective, 2) Look to the need behind her sometimes strange sounding requests, 3) Respect the person behind the disease and recognize my responsibility to do the best I can to understand and support her.  

Easier said than done; caregiving isn't a tidy venture.  But with the Lord as my help maybe I'll manage to do better next time Mom gives me a call.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gratitude + Faith = Peace

In most caregiver/patient relationships, the caregiver receives the greater share of positive reinforcement from concerned onlookers, while the person receiving care is pitied but not often praised.  I must make a confession: in my relationship with my mother, she is the remarkable partner, not I. To prove my point I spent some time today searching through about twenty of my mother’s journals, spiral notebooks that she fills at the rate of about one a week. 

Mom’s writing reveals that gratitude and faith are key characteristics of her daily life; these virtues are responsible for her generally positive mindset during the years she has struggled with Alzheimer’s disease.

Here, as a Christmas gift to those her life has touched, are some quotes from Mom’s notebooks: 

“Lord please help me—no desperation—just an acknowledgment of constant need. I am so blessed by the beauty of Christmas color around me: the tiny lights illuminate the tree, the big afghan you led me to do long ago, Irma’s Christmas candle pillows and always, gentle music” (December, 2007). 

“No recollection comes to me of what I did today. I wish that was unusual but it isn’t—short, short memory…but I feel fine—remarkable!  Lord, I’m grateful for apparent good health despite flawed memory” (January, 2009).

“When I was young I thought at 85 years of age I would be decrepit and not able to think.  Though nothing as well as 20, I still enjoy life and feel ok about myself.  Just stay open to God”  (June, 2009).

“The contrast between this warm Christmas decorated apartment and the stark outside winter scene is almost startling but gives us a special thankfulness” (Christmas Eve, 2009).

“I am blessed with generally good health, eyesight, hearing, etc. There are no words to express the blessings of a comfortable life at any age, but at this age it is a blessing I never expected to have.  Sure, people live to 88, but with mind and body so intact is very special. I bow down, Lord, no words to express how I think about it…feel in my heart concerning my circumstances.  Amen!  I smile because there are few “happenings” in a senior’s life—and I’m glad! But what is—is peace, comfort with my Lord Jesus ever close.  Yes, blessed!”  (March, 2012)

Every time I consider throwing Mom’s notebooks away, I flip one open and find some gem of wisdom that causes me to slip yet another Rubbermaid keeper full of spiral notebooks into the attic cubby above Mom’s apartment.  When her earthly voice is stilled, I will still have my mother’s notebooks as a reminder that faith and gratitude in the face of life’s challenges bring peace.