If you ask most people if they’d want to relive the years when their loved one had Alzheimer’s, you’d most likely get a resounding, “No!” That’s my first response too. But, if I give myself time to let the question penetrate deeper into my heart, my answer is different.
It has been almost a decade since my mother passed away. Nine years to be exact, on November 17th, which happens to fall during National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. The timing makes me reflect on what I’ve learned, which I’d like to share with those just beginning the journey of caring for someone they love who has this disease. Mom had Alzheimer’s for the final 14 years of her life. Fourteen long years filled with heartache, exhaustion and occasional tender moments of connection.
Those years as a caregiver transformed me from someone focused on myself and my own interests to someone who understands a little bit more about human suffering, compassion and faith.
While the hardship of those years would be tough to face again, what I learned from caring for my mother transcends that pain.
The first lesson I learned is that life can change in a split second. I was in my early 30s when my mother first showed signs of Alzheimer’s. Up until then, my life had gone pretty smoothly. My husband and I had moved from Texas to North Carolina to be closer to my family. We were planning to build a barn for my horse, and we were looking forward to having children and sharing them with their grandparents – when I was hit with the double-whammy of having multiple miscarriages while witnessing the gradual disintegration of my mother’s mind. These losses rocked my world, and, suddenly, the landscape of my life had completely changed.
My days that had previously been filled with freelance writing, workouts at the Y, visits with friends, riding my horse and frequent trips with my husband suddenly revolved entirely around caring for my mother. She and my father lived on the coast, six hours away from my home near Charlotte. In trying to understand what was happening to Mom – why she was so agitated and confused, why she was upset with my father – I was suddenly on the road regularly. And that was just the beginning…
Next Week: Lessons From My Mother pt. 2 – Caring for another person is hard work
This is the first 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. Formerly a magazine and newspaper journalist, Campanella’s writing has appeared in local and national publications including A Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer’s. Twice she has received the Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals. For more information, visit: www.anncampanella.com