“Life with Mom and Living with Lymphoma”
I headed out to an Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s conference last week and didn’t get very far. First, I was late leaving my house because my mother was having a mini crisis thinking that her teeth were disintegrating. I reassured her that they weren’t after conducting a thorough assessment (at least I made her think it was a legit assessment). She was finally satisfied that she would be able to chew her lunch that day. I left and made it about 3/10 of a mile away when my car broke down. I ditched it and walked home. On my way home, I had to walk past the plot of land where I spent nine years of my early childhood. I stopped and looked at the enormous tree that was the focal point of our front yard and was flooded with memories of easier days filled with hide-and-seek, pogo sticks, cartwheels, and bug and butterfly hunting. I got back home, grabbed another car and went on to my conference. When I got there, I couldn’t find a parking spot for about 10 minutes (at least it felt like 10 minutes). I finally found one and actually got there in plenty of time to hear the key-note speaker.
The day was filled with people who are directly touched by a loved one with dementia. Some are daughters and sons, some are spouses, and some are brothers and sisters. Some are dealing with their own health issues, or raising children, or live too far away to feel helpful. All of us are trying to learn more about the cognitive diseases that we’re dealing with, how to best help the person with dementia, and probably most importantly, how to help ourselves in these times of enormous stress.
These last few weeks have been especially difficult for me because my mother seems to be ailing from issue(s) other than dementia. In other words, there seems to be something physically/medically going on with her. I’ve had her to see her doctor three times in two weeks and aside from a UTI (which, by the way, can completely throw a person with dementia off), nothing else was discovered. She continued on with her increased confusion and fatigue for a few weeks after antibiotic treatment.
Yesterday, she told me that she was homeless and didn’t know where she would sleep that night. She has mentioned this multiple times over the last few weeks, and although I know that reality orientation doesn’t work and shouldn’t be used, I do try to assure her that she lives here with me and she’s not homeless. Yesterday, instead of trying to reassure her, I attempted to distract her by asking how in the world she ever raised five kids with the amount of worrying she does. She told me that raising the kids wasn’t half as bad as the last 2 weeks she’s spent with me! I never expected such an answer and laughed out loud. She began laughing too, reached for my hand, pulled me down to her level, kissed me on the cheek, and told me she loved me. I’m not sure what I’ll say next time she tells me she’s homeless, but I hope I have the wisdom and the creativity to distract her and turn it in to another moment that we can both enjoy.
The end of the conference was a 45 minute presentation from Dr. Joel Goodman, the founder of The Humor Project. He told us about how he and his wife moved eight hours away from their home to be with his mother who had dementia. He emphasized the importance of humor for both caregivers and the person with dementia, and to look for the little things that are in front of each of us every day that can be funny. I was proud of myself when thinking of how my morning started. I walked in to the building thinking about my mother’s teeth, my broken down car, and my difficulty finding a parking spot, and laughed to myself. I realize now, that with a life threatening disease like lymphoma, and caregiving responsibilities for my mother, that these little things are not only things that shouldn’t rob you of peace of mind, but can also be hilarious. My mother’s teeth are really intact, my car is being fixed, and I gained so much from being at this conference.
There was really never anything to worry or stress about.
Dr. Goodman left us with a philosophical and enlightening thought. He wrote these words on newsprint for all to see, and asked us what we saw. Because this is typed, I’m limited in the way I can present this, but he wrote it in such a way that people interpreted it differently. He wrote:
Opportunity is nowhere. You could read it like that, or like this:
Opportunity is now here.
The latter is the message I saw and hope to never forget.