I’ve been thinking about Mom a lot today. If I had one piece of advice for those traveling the Alzheimer’s journey with someone they love, I would tell them to treasure every moment. Of course no one would choose this path, but for all of the misery and sadness, there are also moments of utter joy, as well as an opportunity to connect with your loved one like never before.
The Mother/Daughter Bond
Prior to her illness, my mom and I had a very close relationship. Sure, we had our moments of mother/daughter strife, but she was my biggest cheerleader and I always knew that no matter what else happened, she would be by my side. There was a mutual love, and even though we probably didn’t say it enough, we both knew it was stronger than any disagreement or conflict we had.
The early years of her illness were probably our most contentious. Sadly, I don’t think either of us knew how to process our fears and emotions, and I’ll always regret that. But, as the disease progressed, I began to accept it – at least to the extent possible, and our bond strengthened.
Frustration, Laughter, and Love
Although she lost language fairly early, it seems we always managed to communicate. While I hated seeing her upset and acting out, I never did take it personally. Make no mistake, it hurt; however, I knew it wasn’t intentionally directed at me, but rather was a function of the pain and frustration she was experiencing. Yelling and lashing out were her only means of expressing her displeasure. She couldn’t tell us what was bothering her, and one can only imagine how maddening that must have been.
But for all the difficult moments we experienced, we also shared laughter and a connection the depth of which I never knew possible. Mom had her own language of love that I’ll never forget; the way her eyes would light up when she saw me come in the door, the funny faces she was forever entertaining us with, and the sweet expression on her face when she was able to find those three precious words, “I love you.” And there were those rare and treasured moments when it seemed as though her maternal instinct kicked in for a brief instant as she stroked my face or patted my leg with the gentleness of a mother. For a split second, I was once again the daughter, and she was my mom.
“Hello, Are You In There?”
One of the things I find most upsetting is this crazy notion that people with Alzheimer’s are nothing more than an empty shell of what they once were. Put in the simplest of terms, that is a load of rubbish. Right up until the very end, I saw things in my mom that assured me she was still very much “in there.” She never lost her sense of humor, stubbornness, or spunk, and I truly believe she often understood more than one might have thought.
As you travel this journey with your own parent, sibling, spouse, or friend, just be there with them. Follow their lead. If they want to laugh and be silly, do it right along with them. And if you sense they just want to sit quietly, hold their hand and let them feel your love. Remember that while the disease has changed them drastically, they are still the people you have always known and loved. They have feelings and emotions, and they continue to love and need you very much.