DEALING WITH DEATH AND DEMENTIA
As some of you know, on Dec. 17th my brother passed away. It’s been hard for the whole family, but my mom lost her son. I can’t imagine losing one of my kids at any age. He was 56. With her worsening dementia, we wondered what this kind of loss would do to her mind? Could this send her somewhere that she wouldn’t be able to return from?
We went back and forth deciding whether or not to tell her, but honesty won out. She had to know. It was one of those life and death choices that will ultimately decide the future of her mental state. That is the scariest thing about being a caregiver. The decisions you make are so profoundly serious. I feel like I am protecting not only her body, but her mind as well and that is absolutely terrifying. It carries with it the weight of the world.
I’ll never forget setting her down at the kitchen and blowing apart her safe, secure world as if I were holding a stick of dynamite. There is nothing in the world I could have said that would have hurt her any deeper than this and I knew it. We decided to take her to Florida for the funeral, about a 9-hour trip each way. We left on a Monday and stayed overnight at a hotel, before attending the memorial service the next morning (2 days before Christmas) and then driving straight back. I thought that seeing him would give her the closure she would need to process the loss.
Due to circumstances out of our control she didn’t get that closure. So then, I worried again would it be fresh and raw every single time it popped back in her mind. Was it like playing memory roulette? If she passed by a picture or someone mentioned his name would it begin all over again for her. I can’t imagine a fate any worse than losing someone you love, your child, over again and again in your mind.
That’s just it though, you never know how it’s going to play out when all the cards are on the table. You can only cross your fingers and hope that you made the right decision and live with the consequences. Just like most of life, only you’re back to that dementia thing again. The damage that I could do to her mind seems like such a heavy price to pay for one wrong decision. Sometimes it leaves me afraid to make any decision at all and that’s as bad as making the wrong one. We cried and we laughed. We said goodbye and we reminisced. Then we moved on.
We moved on and continued with our Christmas celebrations. We laughed at the babies antics as we celebrated their first Christmas at home (last year they were in the NICU). We cooked a huge dinner and the very best part, all of my brothers visited for a few days. Instead of it only being one or two of us, the four of us came together for mom and you know what? We learned that we really sort of liked each other and missed each other. So much so, that we are planning a family summer retreat together.
The Alzheimer’s at least, seems to have given her the ability to process the grief faster and move past it. Which in my eyes is a huge blessing. I have been terrified that it would be like losing him over and over again.That she would never move past the beginning stages of grief. It was like that for those first few days, but then after we got home from the funeral it was right into preparing for Christmas Eve dinner and then Christmas she moved through her grief just as quickly.
Now, before you think it is all sunshine and gumdrops over here. This wasn’t as easy as it appears. You know those little words at the bottom of your side mirrors of your car? The ones that say, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”. Well, in life’s review mirror it should say, “objects in the mirror are clearer than they appeared”. Hindsight being 20/20 and all of that.
You see, we will always miss my older brother, he was the oldest after all, and each of us had our own relationships with him. Being the only girl with 4 brothers, I was both tortured and spoiled by my brothers. My oldest brother was 11 years older and he was beyond the torture stage. He spoiled me growing up. Like bringing me candy home from school, carrying me up to their treehouse when the other brothers wouldn’t let me, even taking me on some of his dates with him. He was my hero plain and simple. As we grew up and my father died he became even more so.
I gave him a picture of him and I on his wedding day and it meant so much to him that they had it on display at his memorial. It’s of me and him. I’m 7 and he’s 18 and he’d just come home from basic training for the Army. He’s walking with me and we’re laughing and talking and I am beaming. All teeth he used to say. I love that picture.
While we will miss him always his death allowed us to finally rid ourselves of the poisoning cancer that had infected our family for the last decade. There’s more to the story like there always is and that I’ve chosen to leave for another day. Remember to:
Appreciate the good, laugh at the crazy, and deal with the rest.
I love you momma!
I am still looking for people who want to guest post about their caregiver stories. If you’re interested contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org