Most caregiver’s do not become caregivers on purpose. They only become caregivers after some often traumatic or dangerous situation has occurred with their parents or loved one. With my mother, it was a comment made by her neighbor that first got me thinking about Alzheimer’s Disease. I knew my mom was forgetting things, she had been for several years. I knew that when we moved her from Kentucky to South Carolina her memory had gotten even worse.
My usual day would consist of talking to my mother three different times in a single day. She would call me first thing in the morning and see how my day was going. Then usually around lunch she would think of something else that she needed to tell me. Then about 5pm every night, she would call and repeat the whole conversation word for word. I use to think it was cute, it used to aggravate me to no end. I had no clue what Alzheimer’s really was. I thought that it wasn’t just being forgetful. That’s the easy part.
After her neighbor made the comment that she thought my mother had Alzheimer’s Disease, I began to worry. I knew all my life that when mom got older that I would be the one taking care of her. If I were being honest with myself I had been taking care of her since the day my father died in 1985. Whether it was a form to be filled out or having the skin cancer removed from her arm. It’s always been me.
I always knew that I would have to bring her home with me. My husband and I had talked about this years ago. I would never let her go into a nursing home because honestly I believe that it would kill her. I had this figured out, I knew what I would do. I would move her in with us someday in the future where she would sit around and quilt and play with future great grandchildren with a great big smile on her face. It wasn’t until “someday” snuck up and smacked me across the face that I realized I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
I made SO many mistakes. Do I regret moving her from her home in KY and bringing her here so far away from the home she had ever known? No, that couldn’t be helped. I knew she wouldn’t be able to survive back in KY without help from me. We found her a beautiful apartment and she lived there for two years. I decided to make a surprise visit. What I found was my mother dirty, unkempt and with little piles of pills laying throughout her apartment where she had set them down and simply forgotten to take them.
I talked it over with my husband, her lease was up and it seemed like the perfect time. We moved her into our small 2 bedroom home, put all of her belongings in storage until we could figure out what to do with all of it. I put her bedroom suite in her room so she would at least that, a little bit of familiarity. Within 2 days we were all miserable. Mom was mean and hateful and would disagree over everything then forget what she was even arguing about. She plummeted quickly. So what did I do, I moved her again. This time I moved all of us. I found a house that was big enough for her stuff and ours and luckily it all came together rather quickly. If you are keeping track that is three moves in two years.
I spent my days saying mom you can’t do that, mom you just did that, no mom. We were still miserable. It all came to a head on January 10th 2014. I had gotten very sick and lost my voice and spent several days in the hospital. It would be months before I would be able to speak again. I was already diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and the added stress was just making everything worse. WhIle I was in the hospital my husband was running back and forth taking care of both of us. At the exact time we were visited by the Polar Vortex and our pipes froze, mom got confused and locked all of our house keys in the safe. It was a nightmare. It ended with a meltdown. This small woman who has never smoked a cigarette, never tasted a beer, never said a cuss word in her life looked at me and said “I hate your house, I don’t want to be here and I’m going home GDit”.
I lost it! I had done all these things bent over backward to make her happy and this was the thanks I got. I looked at her and screamed, “You can’t go home, you can’t take care of yourself you forget everything.” My mother ran from the room crying, I sat at the table crying and my husband quietly slipped out the back door with tears running down his face” What had I done? What kind of monster was I? A little while later my mother walked back in the kitchen. Eyes red and swollen, in the smallest voice I have ever heard said “I’m so scared”. I looked at her and said “Momma, I’m scared too, but we are going to have to do this together”. I decided then and there to find out everything I could about Alzheimer’s and to make her life as happy and safe as I possibly could. This is where I found out that I had done every single thing wrong. This was my 44th birthday.
No, caregivers don’t become caregivers the way you would any other career. They become caregivers because they have to. They become caregivers because they wouldn’t have it any other way.
November is national caregiver month. If you know someone who is a caregiver give them a call, take them lunch or maybe even take over for a couple of hours to give them a break if you’re able. Caregiver’s don’t get enough support. It is stressful, depressing and isolating and the whole reason I began writing, as an outlet for all of these feelings.
Appreciate the good, laugh at crazy, and deal with the rest.
I love you momma!