Watching a parent succumb to dementia can make even middle-aged children feel like orphans. The disease cuts a cruel path through families and sometimes it seems like dementia made my mother abandon her children. I’m very lucky that Mom selected a wonderful godmother for me when I was an infant. Since my mom can no longer go places, I invited my godmother to the Philadelphia Flower Show. We had a great day.
Philadelphia Flower Show
It seems that 1950’s relationships — like washing machines of that period — were crafted to endure more and last longer. My godmother, Ann, was my mom’s best friend from elementary school to retirement. Few people today manage to bind the threads of their lives together across so many decades of change. Mom and Ann helped each other through the trials of adolescence, marriage, childbirth, motherhood, and professional upheaval.
Ann remembered the last time I took my mother to the Flower Show. It was about three years ago and even then Mom’s eye sight was diminishing. She could, however, see the bold colors of the giant displays. The vivid reds, purples, and greens boosted her happiness as we strolled through the wild, gorgeous gardens.
The next day, my godmother called Mom to find out about our outing. When Ann asked Mom if she’d been to the Flower Show, my mother said no. She had already forgotten the whole thing. It was painful to realize how quickly Mom’s memories were disappearing. Even a huge event failed to make a lasting impression on her. Nevertheless, thanks to the magic of cameras, I had all the evidence I needed to remember my day with my mother.
This week I took fifty photos of giant sculptures made from orchids, hyacinths, roses, lilies — every flower you know and a hundred others with names you don’t recognize. I have shots of the acrobats that danced above the show entrance and the 100 year old bonsai trees. But among all those pictures there is one I really cherish. It captured the smiling face of my dear godmother who loyally visits with my mom after all these years. She shows us both the deepest kind of love there is. Thank goodness for people who care.
Being a good steward for someone with dementia is a huge responsibility. It takes energy and time to study the medical, legal, and economic questions that come with being a caregiver and/or power of attorney. Recent mistakes have also taught me that caregiver stress impairs intuition — a problem that can push you into making hasty decisions that lead to worse problems over time.
For the past ten days I’ve been struggling to resolve a crisis that arose because I was in a hurry to rent my mother’s old home. Mom’s care gets more expensive all the time and I was distracted by thoughts of the future, instead of ensuring that our tenant was 100% trustworthy. My instincts were shorted out by the stress of cleaning the property between snow and ice storms and interviewing potential renters while fulfilling usual duties.
In my haste to keep Mom’s income stream running, I let someone into our lives who did not belong there. We’re not perfect people, but my family’s values are rooted in a tradition of hard work and mutual respect for people in our orbit. The person who moved into my mom’s old home did not embrace that tradition. Shortly after entering our lives, the tenant began to break all promises made in the contract that launched our relationship. Things quickly went from bad to worse — making me hate myself for trusting a devious person with my mother’s sweet home.
We’ve always had good rental experiences in the past. In fact, I would say that we’ve enjoyed knowing former tenants and still think fondly of them. I don’t know how I overlooked or ignored the small signs that could have warned me away from this recent encounter. But I didn’t act on them, and ended up plagued with guilt over my failure to be a good steward of my mother’s interests.
The situation made me think about the number of times we serve as eyes and ears for our loved ones. We make so many medical and legal decisions on their behalf. Even something as basic as having an aide come in for a few hours of caregiver relief requires deep reflection since, after a certain point, they can’t tell us whether that person was kind, careful, or evil. It falls to us to stay sharp and aware for them. That’s not too hard when we are calm and focused. But caregiving often steals our clarity. During the last month, snow and ice made me feel like I was climbing Everest just to get Mom’s supplies from the pharmacy.
I feel very fortunate to be writing about this bad situation in the past tense. We took swift action and Mom’s home is secure once more. But it will take a while to straighten things out and get her financial ship headed back in the right direction. In the meantime, I’ve had to reflect on the nature of our true needs. Yes, Mom needs an income to help pay for her medical costs. But we can only afford to have people in our lives who share our values and merit our trust. Going forward, I need to summon more of the spirit of “Old Mom” and less of my frazzled self.