Not sure the reason, but the day after holiday decorations are taken down, something tugs at my heartstrings. I miss my mom, always do, but when the holidays have come and gone I miss her more.
She would’ve enjoyed being with us. She always did.
I miss our talks. Well, most of them. There were some really difficult ones. She was a strong and determined Norwegian, who taught me well how to put up a fight. Our mutual stubbornness brought on many heated discussions. The best ones were when we both won the conversation.
My heart goes out to the families who have struggled with difficult decisions and conversations during the holiday season. I know each year as mom’s dementia changed, I struggled. May you find the strength you need in difficult times.
In special memory of my mom, I’m re-sharing an article I wrote for Queen of the Castle Magazine in April of 2015. (The link is expired, so…I guess I can share it again?).
Strength in the Journey
Knock, knock, “Mom, it’s me. I’m on lunch break. You didn’t show up for your appointment, so I thought I’d stop by to see you.”
She sat there slumped in the chair, with a bowl of half eaten cereal, still not dressed for the day.
With little enthusiasm, she said, “Oh, Hi dear, how are you?”
“Mom, are you okay? Your face looks a little droopy on the left side.”
Her speech slurry, “I’m fine, I just think I have the flu bug. I just woke up I must have slept on that side.” She points to a bouquet of daisies in a yellow coffee cup on the table, “I bought you an anniversary gift. I’m sorry I didn’t get it to you yet.”
“That’s okay Mom, thank you, I love it. Are you sure you’re okay? Can I get you anything?”
“Well, I do have a pain in my back, can you make me an appointment with Dr. Joe?”
“Sure, I called, they can get you in tomorrow, I’ll take you.”
“Okay, thanks, I’ll rest until then, I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, you sure? I’ll be back tomorrow.”
I didn’t know the signs…
Morning came and I called her; no answer…the phone kept ringing.
Her neighbor checked in; called me to say, “She was still sleeping.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
No answer when I knocked. I rushed in, found her, naked in bed, very disoriented, talking about her father and her brother, both who had passed away years before. She refused to get dressed, she refused to move.
I glanced around the room, clothes all over, papers were strewn about, medications not taken for days, the phone off the hook in another room…
No wonder I couldn’t reach her…had she tried to call me??
I called 911. They took her to the emergency room.
She was very pleasant, lying there quietly as everyone moved around her. Strange, she normally complains about being with doctors.
Had I made the wrong call?
The doctor knocked and walked in to share the news. “We’re admitting your mom, she has had a stroke, has a UTI and acute renal failure. Her pleasant demeanor indicated to her primary physician a possible stroke which was confirmed by MRI’s.”
I didn’t know the signs…
So began our memory care journey together. Mom had to live the rest of her life living with vascular dementia (multi-infarct dementia MID) causing memory loss, thinking, language, judgment and behavioral issues and moment by moment struggles.
“Mom, let’s go on an adventure.”
“Okay, where are we going?”
“Since you had a fall, and because it’s winter and icy, we’re going to find a nice place for you to stay until you get stronger.”
“I want to go home.”
“I know, but let’s do what the doctor said, at least until the snow melts.”
“Mom, this is the place you picked out with me, remember?”
“No! I don’t want to stay here, I want to go home!” She cried and screamed, “You ungrateful daughter, I hate you.”
I had to stay strong! I had to keep her safe. I kneeled down in front of her on the floor, held her hands and said, “Mom, you’re right, I failed you, you are here because of me, I’m sorry. I love you.”
A short 5 years later…watching her sleep and thinking, I’ve held these hands all my life, many happy memories, “Thank you for being the best mom ever. We’ll be okay. It’s okay, you can go now.”
“Oh, my, her eyes are open, she’s looking at me…Mom, I love you…goodbye.” She took her last breath as I held her hands. It was a beautiful end to our journey together. We were finally at peace.
My journey continues on in her memory.
How does one learn to adapt to change when it is out of your control? A brain affected by vascular dementia responds differently depending upon where the damage occurs. A person then lives moment by moment. Their brain and body will gradually shut down. There will be moments of peace for the person.
The caregiver gets to learn while their loved one’s brain no longer can. You learn about being a Power of Attorney for Health Care and Finance. You learn to adjust to the fact that disease will eventually take your loved one from you. You learn to be their voice throughout the journey, making choices for them when they can’t. Often times against what they would have wanted had they had the chance to live without dementia.
You overcome obstacles for them and with them. You get stronger in the process. While I lost my mom, I’ll never regret the journey we shared. I learned I am meant to help others in need find strength in their unique memory care journeys.