A CAREGIVER’S EPIPHANY
I became my mom’s caregiver when I realized my mother could no longer live on her own. She is almost 79 years old and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I have to admit that it was something that hadn’t often crossed my mind. I mean, I knew it would happen “SOMEDAY”, but “SOMEDAY” was a day that lurked way off in the distant future. It wasn’t until “SOMEDAY” snuck up and smacked me right across the face that I had to think and I had to do it really fast. So, I moved my mother in for better or for worse.
Like most, I made countless mistakes but I did manage to do a couple of things right. I’ve been her 24/7 caregiver for a year and a half now. The one thing I have learned is that I had been her caregiver for many years before that, I just didn’t realize it. Taking her to the grocery, filling out forms, taking care of her personal business right down to putting those home perms in her hair every 3 months. You see, I didn’t see that as caregiving. I saw it as love. My love for my mom and trying to make her life easier.
When I add those times up I realize that I have been caregiving for roughly 10 years. Taking care of all the little things to keep her from getting agitated. Like the time, she thought she had left her lightbulbs at Walmart only to find them in her freezer. Of course, I even took the blame for it saying that I must have been in a hurry.
You know, as I write this, it finally hits me that she is not only suffering from Alzheimer’s but from her own stereotypes and prejudices about Alzheimer’s. All because she has this problem where she looks at Alzheimer’s as though she is becoming old and dumb and this has been her problem all along. I see now why she tells me that Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer’s almost every single day. In her eyes, he was one of the smartest men she knew. I see why we never really talk about “it” because she gets so upset.
That’s what I love about writing. You can start off heading down a certain trail then all of a sudden a word or a phrase will jump out at you and you find yourself taking a whole other road instead!
Because of where and when she grew up she has always had a certain fear, I’ll use this word for lack of something better, of being seen as dumb or not well-educated. This has made her painfully shy and socially awkward her whole life. So imagine how that fear was amplified when she find out that she now has Alzheimer’s Disease. She certainly didn’t go to Yale or Harvard. She went to college for one year and they taught her about CPR and making curtains, that is the reality of education in most parts of Eastern Kentucky. Not once did I ever look at her as being dumb, but I guess this is what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
This epiphany breaks my heart. This is the woman who taught me to love words, books, and reading, above all else. She would sit with me for hours sounding out the words, teaching me to read before I ever went to school.
This is the same woman who went to school and argued with them that yes, I should be allowed to check books out of the library in the first grade when this was strictly prohibited. She pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to me in front of my teacher and the principal and said one word “READ”. So I read and before we left that day I had my own library pass and I was the only first grader in the whole school who could go to the library during recess and get books. She did this for me.
So my question is how do I convince her that Alzheimer’s Disease has nothing to do with getting old and dumb. That it is a disease, a thief, who sneaks in and robs you of every single thing that you hold near and dear. Who steals those words, books and reading that she so lovingly shared with me? How do I prevent myself from following in her footsteps when I recognize those same tendencies in myself. I guess we are more alike than I ever thought we were.
Appreciate the good, laugh at the crazy, and deal with the rest.
I love you momma!