The other side of the true religion equation is caring for widows. In the months leading to my widowed mother’s death last July she longed to be free of her dementia ravaged brain and the bizarre world she crept through each day. When she died, I thought I’d feel peace, for the end to her torture, and for me, relieved of the day and night weight of trying to ease her pain, brighten her life, lift her load, with rare success.
Instead, I miss her wacky presence. I miss having a Mom, even if I’d been the one mothering her for years. Instead of taking care of a widow, I am an orphan.
And I have become extremely sensitive to the multigenerational relationships around me.
I notice the middle-aged woman easing her father out of her car to the wheel chair—often a great challenge in itself—and chatting with him about what he “needs” to buy in the grocery store. I want to hug her and encourage her to keep on.
I also see the daughter or son impatient with their confused or fumbling parent in the doctor’s office. I want to intervene and say:
I know the days are long —
Often the nights as well, if you have your loved one at home, or just can’t sleep because they are on your heart and mind.
I know they can be exasperating, exhausting, argumentative and unappreciative.
I know sometimes you are so bone tired you don’t know how much longer you can do this.
At times you don’t even want to see your “loved one.” And you feel guilty. Somewhere you know, probably unprocessed, they are not your enemy. It is the ravages of dementia you both battle.
And in the midst of it all, you are grieving.
All the little losses of who they used to be, or say, or do, or love
As they lose abilities and you take on more responsibilities, you know this is slow.motion.dying.
It rips you up inside.
My humble advice:
Let go of who they were.
If there is anything at all that they enjoy or respond to now, go for it, in spades.
If I had a do-over I’d give my mother more baths, more back rubs and loads of ice cream, because that’s what really brought a smile to her face, until near the end.
If your once unsmiling, go-by-the-rules mother is all of the sudden giggling at all the wrong moments, giggle with her.
It hurts to see your once proud, successful father muttering in a wheelchair or wearing diapers, but he still needs a kiss on that wrinkled cheek. He needs you, not just folks paid to care for his needs.
If she wants to dance in church, go early and dance with her.
Don’t worry so much about their falling down or getting lost. This is strange coming from one who used to teach American Red Cross classes to seniors about safety, but at this point in their lives, I believe connecting is more important than safety.
Seek every opportunity to relate to whomever you have before you, today.
I believe that even with those who seem to be disconnected, deep inside, your loved one is still there waiting for you to reach in when they can’t reach out.
Waiting to feel loved.
Needing so much the security that only connection with you can give them in the nightmare inside their head.
Find music from their childhood or youth and play or sing it. Sometimes a song can “wake” a person who hasn’t responded in months. I sang in a nursing home to a semicircle of wheel-chaired patients, one in the back slumped over, oblivious. When we started singing an old gospel chorus, she sat up in her chair and clearly sang every word with us. We learned later she hadn’t talked or responded to anyone in months.
Several years ago my sister told me about the book Still Alice. I read it in a wash of tears, and it changed how I looked at behaviors that once confused or irritated me with our Mom. (I’ve heard the movie is also good. If you go, take lots of tissues.)
Impatience turned into compassion.
So cry when grief hits your gut, then wipe your tears and dance, hug, rub backs, and sing.
And hold them and pray, out loud, because their spirit is still alive, hungry for eternal words when the words of this world no longer have value.