Caring for another person is hard work.
There’s no getting around it. Caretaking takes a lot of time, effort and heart. In the early stages of her disease, my mother was anxious and aware that something wasn’t right. I would often try to explain her illness, and 30 seconds later she would look at me with concern in her eyes and ask, “What did you say my problem was?”
Over time, my family and I had to step in and take over the running of her life – cooking meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house. As odd as it might seem, those were the easy chores. On my weekend trips I could produce a meal, clean out the refrigerator and throw away the old newspapers that had accumulated in the living room. For a brief moment, things would look better. I could fool myself into thinking that with everything back in its place, my mother’s life could return to normal.
But it wasn’t so simple to soothe my mother when she accused my father of stealing her checkbook, or to placate my father who was fed up with Mom’s constant unfounded attacks. She would often disolve in to tears when I tried to talk with her about these issues.
I remember trying, unsuccessfully, to understand the root of her sadness. It was only later that I realized she was grieving over the loss of the woman she used to be.
My mother eventually needed help with bathing, dressing and being fed. She became incontinent and could not be left alone. There were endless doctor appointments, bills to be paid and reams of paperwork. None of it was easy. It was as if the layers of my mother’s life had been shredded and my family and I were left to assemble a makeshift facsimile. As long as she was alive, the work never stopped.
People before things.
My sister used to remind me of this simple adage. Because there was so much to do, I often focused on the jobs that could be finished. Clear out the file cabinet. Check. Throw out the expired food. Check. Wash the hodgepodge of laundry scattered around the house. Check.
But my mother needed attention, especially when she was upset or agitated. She needed someone to sit with her, to hold her hand, to listen to her confusion. It took patience and fortitude to hear the same stories over and over again and to stay calm in the face of her emotional chaos. It wasn’t easy but it was what she needed. And it was what I needed to do for her.
Next Week: Lessons From My Mother pt. 3 – Caring for a loved one is caring for yourself.
This is the second of a 5-part series from Ann Campanella, the author of Motherhood: Lost and Found, an award-winning memoir that tells the story of her struggle to become a mother while dealing with her own mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s. For more information, visit: www.anncampanella.com