Caregiver Strength

Some days, I feel 100% capable of helping my mom. If I must run 20 errands and make 10 phone calls, I will. But my emotions are like the snow in my yard, sitting in an icy pile which could support a car…or melt to a trickle that can break through concrete, through rock and….shatter my mask of strength.


This week a friend took me for a session with someone who sees spirits. I’m not sure how much I believe in these readings, but they almost always bring up stuff I’ve been trying to ignore. This encounter was no exception. The seer told me that someone in my life had one foot in this world, and one in the next. That person, she said, has an impaired mind — like someone with Alzheimer’s. Hmmm.

My tears did not begin to pour until she told me that my grandmother’s spirit visits my mom (who else could it be?) — trying to help her understand that the other side is not a bad place. Once I began to think about this (whether it is possible or not), the floodgates opened and I was confronting many thoughts and feelings I keep suppressed.

Anyone who has cared for, or been close to, someone with dementia knows that your feelings about the disease are always complicated. We don’t want to lose the ones we love, but we hate seeing them suffer. My mom is still so cheerful despite her near complete lack of skills. This week I also heard a poem called “Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani that called up an image of her. Without permission, I can’t reprint the entire poem but here is how it begins [click link to hear it]:

This is for the fat girls.

This is for the little brothers.

This is for the school-yard wimps, this is for the childhood bullies who tormented them.

This is for the former prom queen, this is for the milk-crate ball players.

This is for the nighttime cereal eaters and for the retired, elderly Wal-Mart store front door greeters. Shake the dust.

This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them,

for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns,

for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children,

for the nighttime schoolers and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly. Shake the dust.

This is for the two-year-olds who cannot be understood because they speak half-English and half-God. Shake the dust.

That line about the two-year-olds was the one that got me. The words describe my mother’s way of speaking. No matter how much I want to, I can’t interpret her “half-God” language. When I’m feeling strong, it’s not that hard to pretend I know what she’s talking about. But there are moments — like after my time with the spirit reader — when that trickle of feeling gets stronger and seems to wash the strength right out of me. I just don’t know what to say to her.

I’m getting some of my fortitude back now because it’s a grey Sunday and even the clouds are speaking that half-God language. Although it’s scary, it helps to spend some time listening to those caged emotions struggling to push past our brittle surface. These feelings pull our attention to mysterious places where we can ponder — and deepen our sense of — the bewildering dimensions of life and disease.

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