Caregivers on Mother’s Day

This post is for caregivers on Mother’s Day. Many of us are tending the needs of mothers who once took care of us. Others are missing the mother they once had. My mom is still alive, but completely transformed by #dementia. After looking after her for years, I use this day to remember what was best in her and ask myself how I measure up.

Caregivers on Mother's Day

In 1960, my mom was one of those young women who worked hard to have it all. Mom was constantly busy with chores required for maintaining a clean and nourished family. She loved her full time job and couldn’t stand to have a messy house or dirty dishes in the sink. To get everything done, she stayed super-organized. All the hangers in her closet faced the same direction and she never did one task without trying to complete another at the same time.

Lately I’ve been watching old episodes of Mad Men. They make me remember that the decade of the 60’s was exciting for women. They were offered new opportunities in the workforce. But if they took advantage of these jobs, they were still held to high housekeeping standards. They were also expected to look pretty. My mom enlisted my sister and I as partners in the process of keeping a neat home. We had special duties like dusting every piece of furniture in our rooms. We shook the carpets outside and ran the dust mop under the tables. These were weekly rituals that Mom never gave up on even after becoming indispensable to her boss. He had high standards, too!

This work ethic was just one side of my mother. She also had a wonderful sense of humor. As you can see from the Halloween photo above, #dementia could not steal that away. When we were little kids, she let us  act as silly as we wanted and often joined in our ridiculous dances and performances. My mother loved to dance with my dad. They spent many Saturday nights whirling around to big band standards or rock and roll.  Mom was strict about right and wrong, but she gave us  a lot of leeway to develop our own ideas. For me, this was a great gift.

What Traits do you share with your Mom?

So what did I inherit? I’ve got her outstanding work ethic. In fact, I should probably ease up on the work and goof off a little more.  Her gift of silliness is always with me. I believe it’s the one thing keeping me together as a #caregiver. There are rarely dirty dishes in my sink — and that’s probably where our  list of parallel traits ends.

I like the IDEA of a clean house, but I don’t pursue it with her passion because I just don’t have the time and refuse to feel guilty about it. There’s no way I can save money like my mom did. Her financial discipline still amazes me. My closets are totally disorganized. The hangers have permission to go any way they want.

There is one other treasure she somehow transmitted to me: a compassionate heart. My mother couldn’t stand to see anyone suffer and neither can I. Watching her decline has been very hard. When things are really difficult our other shared traits of humor and understanding keep me going. What did you inherit from your mother? This is a fine time to remember any good things she passed on to you — and thank her wherever she may be.



Is Crazy Contagious?

I thought my days would get easier when spring arrived. The weather improved but I managed to get another vicious cold. I passed that cold along to my mom who has been having some wild visions. Lately she’s been calling out my dad’s name. He’s been dead for 21 years and they didn’t get along. Hearing her repeat his name made me feel so weird. I started to wonder: Is crazy contagious?

Is Crazy Contagious?

I am sick for the fifth time since last Thanksgiving. Stress has had a bad effect on my immune system. I just can’t fight off germs the way I once did. Last week I had a hacking cough; now my mom has it too. At least I can cough deliberately to try to get rid of the congestion. Then last week I tried to teach my mom how to do that, too. I urged her to cough hard into a tissue. She just looked at me like I was a fool. Still I kept coaching, “Come on, you can cough I just heard you. Try…..” I held the tissue up and showed her. But all she did was laugh. It was like trying to get a dog to jump rope.

Then I showed her how to blow her nose and it was just as difficult. Mom looked at me with the big eyes of a puzzled child. Finally I just gave up. She can’t master the mechanics of coughing or nose blowing so she’ll just have to deal with her own congestion. Attempts to change her behavior are crazy.

changing roles and changing reality

Aside from the physical aspects of illness, stress is pushing us in odd directions. My mother had a very difficult relationship with my father and they did not part on good terms. Even though she can barely speak at all, this week she pronounced his name clearly over and over. It seemed like she really missed him, which is an unusual turn of events.

Then today, when I thought things were getting more normal, she turned to someone she barely knows and said, “Who is that lady?” Of course she meant me, the person who has been her #caregiver for so long. I never take these remarks personally, but it does add to the weird atmosphere here. At times I look at the sleep deprived person staring back at me from the mirror and wonder just like Mom does, “Who is that lady?” Maybe it’s not such a crazy question. On some days, it makes perfect sense.