Caregiver memories include a lifetime of our own experiences, plus the things we remember for our loved ones. Many of us keep photos around to remind them of who they were and what they did before #dementia struck. Autumn makes me nostalgic about these moments from the past. Is it the beauty of changing leaves or the fact that Fall signals the end of something?
Today I took my camera and drove to one of my favorite spots. Weissport Canal lies at the southern end of a 22-mile trail along the Lehigh River. The Canal, which is part of the #D&L Trail, is a short ride from my house. Many bikers, walkers, and families exercise along the canal path which is bordered by water on both sides. One bank faces the canal, which is home to a flock of well-fed ducks, some tortoises, fish, and lots of water fowl. The opposite side faces the rushing waters of the Lehigh. The end of the path offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
Caregiver Memories: make more now!
I always find beauty at the Weissport Canal. Sometimes it’s in the shape of the trees or their reflections on the water. Whatever I see is enhanced by memories of strolling along that path with my mother when #dementia first struck. She attended a program in a town near Weissport. Sometimes I’d pick her up at the end of the day and stop at the canal on our way home. The ducks swim all around the canal and many parents bring their children to see them. They delighted my mother most when they were quacking up a lot of noise. She loved to watch the adult birds teach their little ducklings how to swim. Once in a while, I’d remember to bring some bird food so she could feed them. That made her especially happy.
When you begin taking care of someone with #dementia, you never expect events from those early scary days to become cherished memories. The sudden arrival of symptoms fills you with dread as you struggle to get a diagnosis. Every day you fear that the absolute worst is about to occur. But if I could give any advice to a new #caregiver, it would be to focus on the simple activities that a dementia patient can still enjoy. Take those walks by the canal, or in your local park. Notice the changing leaves or any beauty you can still share. When nostalgia strikes in the future, it will help you a lot to have good memories on file.
Caregivers lose memories, too. We don’t lose them the same way #dementia patients do. Instead, our duties make it difficult to keep track of our own lives and what makes them meaningful.
Our role as #caregivers gives us chances to transform ourselves through service to others. While doing this work, we often create new memories. But the never-ending list of duties makes it hard to enjoy special moments from other periods of our lives. Forgetting the past can erase too much of our true identity.
This loss of identity can also happen during other phases of life. When parents have their first child, most experience a tsunami of change. They know they’ll be responsible for the health and safety of a tiny vulnerable creature. But they also expect their child to be the focus of happy memories they will create together as a family.
Unfortunately, the transition to the role of #caregiver is not accompanied by so much hope and joy. We become guardians of a person in the midst of steep decline. This demanding role absorbs our full attention. It’s easy to forget we had pleasant times in the past. My sister recently accused me of forgetting a nice memory we discussed a few weeks ago. I told her candidly, “My mind seems to reject any information that is not essential. Every day I’m trying to keep track of which bills need to be paid. When I finish thinking about that, my mind fills up with a mental picture of what we need from the supermarket. Then I have to worry about who will be here to provide support each day.” This never-ending list of worries takes up room that could be dedicated to happier thoughts.
Remembering who we used to be
I want my life to be more than a to-do list. Fortunately, we’ve had a few days of fantastic weather in our slice of the Poconos. As I sit on the porch writing on my laptop, the occasional breeze makes me close my eyes for a moment. The green smell of the forest takes me back to my childhood in a small Pennsylvania town. I used to lie on our front porch swing and pretend I was asleep. To make sure no one would bother me, I’d put an open Nancy Drew book across my face. [When I added that Nancy Drew link just now, the sight of those book covers brought back ten years of my childhood.]
Thoughts of Nancy Drew take me further into the past. We had a large maple tree in front of that porch where I passed countless days reading or playing with friends. At certain times of year, the wind sent little seeds flying to the ground. Kids from my block called them pug noses. We opened them in the middle and used the maple sap to stick them to our noses. The Internet did not exist. We invented every interesting thing in our lives.
We built doll houses out of tissue boxes and played Monopoly for days. If someone was on the verge of going broke, one of the other players handed them money so they could stay in the game. Our goal was to keep the game going. No one ever felt entitled to own everything. Now our world is being managed by billionaires and corporations that won’t be satisfied until they own every resource on the planet. It’s a sad commentary on how the world has changed. But it’s also a good reason to take time to treasure your memories. No one can raise the price on the life you’ve already lived — and they can’t repossess your recollection of living it.