Family support means the world to me as I strive to take care of my mom. Yesterday I was lucky to have many family members come to offer their support and love to mom and our household. There was a period in my life when I didn’t fully grasp the value of these moments. Thank goodness my eyes are now open.
Family support for caregivers is essential. Taking care of a sick person can drain your spirit, even when you take care of yourself and protect your health. Over the past few weeks, I’ve suffered from strained back muscles and general fatigue. Yet for months I’ve been dreaming of a big fall equinox party with a bonfire under a bright moon. It took a lot of effort, but we managed to have this gathering yesterday. We celebrated my mom’s tremendous ability to survive and be happy despite advanced dementia.
It was so touching to see aunts, cousins, neighbors, friends, and children come together for this all-day affair. We had to do it before the cold weather kills our petunias and steals our leaves. Everyone shared food and drinks, stories and tears. It was such a special occasion. The last time we gathered like this, my mom pretended to sleep. Now we’ve learned how to manage my mom’s “tricks” so she can connect with people who travelled far to spend time here. It was beautiful to see her hold her sister’s hand, laughing at the sound of a familiar voice.
I think it’s very possible that life is best savored through occasions when everyone can share their gifts (emotional and material) with loved ones. Caregivers are tired and overwhelmed as a group. We do too much; we can’t manage everything. When family members have a chance to offer their love and support, it’s almost better than a vacation. They leave an echo of their energy behind them. That feeling can sustain us during the next period of exhausting effort. I can still see the smiling faces and remember the glow of the campfire under the moonlight. Even the most difficult struggles have their moments of bliss. Tomorrow I’ll toil, but today I rest on the strength of what others have brought to us.
Planning is not my strong suit, but you have to look ahead when someone in your family has dementia. Unfortunately my forecasts are as dicey as the weatherman’s. Whether you listen to scientists or the Farmer’s Almanac, predictions about the future are often incorrect.
Because my mother’s condition continues to defy expectations, I have to look for stability elsewhere. We live in a place filled with natural wonders so I observe changes in the plants and animals near our home. The first leaves have dropped from the giant elm in our yard. A flock of wild turkeys chattered in a field as I drove home this evening. These signs tell me that summer is drawing to a slow close. Some of the beauty around our home is about to wither. Nature provides me with reliable information that I can actually use.
Doctors and nurses try to do this, too. They use their experience, observations and research to help us understand what’s most likely to happen next. The trouble is that variations of dementia are hard to diagnose and changing symptoms bring one set of problems after another. My mother also seems determined to live through this disease her own way. The same person who appeared so feeble nine months ago, now looks charged up and cheerful.
I love seeing my mother strong again. But sometimes her strength makes me more aware of my own weaknesses. As the evenings grow cooler, I ask myself if I have the vigor to make it through another winter while continuing to provide good care. My memories of last January weigh on me like nightmares from a battle front. Summer has been so peaceful by comparison. I don’t want it to end.
Many caregivers out there face worse challenges than I do so I try to focus on the positive elements of our situation. I chose to carry out this tour of duty and it has been rewarding in a hundred beautiful ways. My battle scars are piling up, however, and I don’t want to become one of those caregivers who lets their health crumble while they support someone else. The only actions that really help us are the affirmative ones we take to make sure we can stay strong. I made an appointment for a physical this week. This is about as far as my planning goes at this time. What plans have you made to ensure a healthy future for yourself?