Caring for a loved one is caring for yourself.
The work was endless during the years that my mother had Alzheimer’s, but it was something I could not NOT do. I loved my mother, and her comfort was as important as my own.
My mother lived on the coast of North Carolina, and my husband and I lived outside of Charlotte. When my mother first became ill, I made the six-hour drive about once a month. While I had plenty of responsibilities at home, something inside me would settle while I was on the road to see her.
My mother needed her family by her side as she walked through the confusion of Alzheimer’s. I was fortunate to have my father and supportive siblings to share this journey with. While it was difficult, the challenges of caring for Mom actually drew us closer together.
The year after my daughter Sydney was born, our family made the decision to move my mother to the Charlotte area. It was a gift to have her closer so that I could spend more time with her while beginning to raise my own daughter, but to give her that time, my life had to change – again.
My priorities narrowed. Nonessential activities fell away. Caring for my mother and young daughter took most of my energy. There was a clarity about my role which made it easier to say no to outside requests. There was a difficult but welcome simplicity about our days.
My daughter and I spent mornings with my mother at her Alzheimer’s assisted living facility. When Sydney became a toddler, Mom would throw a ball back and forth with her, smiling at her antics. Some days, my daughter helped me feed my mother. Seeing them together fed my spirit.
Mom lived the last years of her life in a nursing home and was often not able to communicate. She spent much of her time in bed. I remember driving home after visits with her. I knew that five minutes after I left, she wouldn’t even remember that I had been there. Sometimes the tears would flow, and other times a sense of peace would descend on me. Either way, despite the heartache, I knew I was where I was meant to be.
My mother was more than her memories – she was the person who had tenderly cared for me as a child. I missed being mothered by her, and that ache was deep and real; but giving back to her expanded our relationship and stretched my heart. I learned to hold the pain of my grief alongside my gratitude for her life. Even in the most difficult circumstances, caring for my mother filled my heart in a way that nothing else could.
This is the third 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