I was talking to my good friend Stefano the other day, telling him that I’d been reaching out to people on Facebook more and that I had “friend-ed” someone I knew through him. He told me that he had just told this same friend about my blog because his friend was going through a similar situation with his mother and suggested that we talk to one another.
I had no idea of his situation when I “friend-ed” him, only remembering that he’s an interesting person that I met in New York but was living in Europe that I hadn’t been in touch with for awhile. Well, I don’t believe in coincidences and wasn’t surprised when Lester, the friend and I were on the phone soon after talking about Alzheimer’s.
He told me that a little over a week ago he had flown to New York to visit his mom in Queens after being in Los Angeles for work. He said that he was surprised by how different his mom was, that he knew something was wrong with her and that something had to be done immediately to get her help. I listened to his story, verbally nodding in agreement and acknowledgement that I knew exactly what he was talking about as he related stories of her erratic behavior.
His situation is different from mine (of course, no two experiences with dementia are exactly alike). For one his father is still alive, but elderly himself so isn’t able to cope (mine is dead) and Lester’s brother lives on the West coast (and mine is only an hour away in Virginia) so he’s more or less doing all of this by himself but the end result is the same-he’s the adult child of a parent that now needs his help to guide her through the end of life as she guided him at the beginning.
I listened as he told about her conspiracy theories, paranoia, forgetfulness, confusion and his very real fear that she was going to get in a car accident because she was still driving herself to school where she still teaches. He said that she was very clever about how she covered up her shortcomings and had developed shrewd methods to compensate for her mental deterioration.
I could hear in his voice how tired and sad he was and there was a moment as we talked when I could hear the realization hit that his mother as he knew her may be gone forever.
I told him to think of her in a different light, to (take some time and) mourn the loss of the mother he knew but to remembered to hold onto the love (which is still there and always will be) and to focus on developing a new relationship and new bonds with her, as she will be ever changing because of the disease.
From all that he told me and all that he’d learned (and learned to do) in just a week’s time I told him that he’d done a remarkable job considering. I shared bits of my experience where it made sense but tried to be sensitive and remind myself that this wasn’t about me and my experience-this was about listening and hopefully helping someone who was just joining the “brotherhood”.
As we talked I made a few suggestions; I learned in AA years ago never to “tell” someone what to do, the normal reaction from most adults (and kids, too) is to put up a wall and become defensive when being “told” what to do so whatever you’re saying never gets a chance to be absorbed, processed or possibly acted upon.
So I “suggested” that he not argue with his mom and that right now “being 100% honest with her” (which was the basis of the relationship that he had with her before all this happened) wasn’t as important as getting her to the lab for an MRI and an appointment with a neurologist for a complete evaluation to determine what her condition is and at what stage. I told him that I’m very much of the “ends justifies the means” school and to lie to her if he had to achieve his goal which is to help her.
I told him about Alzheimers.org (an organization he said he didn’t know existed) and how helpful they’d been for me with everything from resources to support groups. I told him about the legal ramifications of what he was about to undertake and what he might need; power of attorney, medical directives, estate planning, etc as well as thinking about long term care facilities and how to plan for that. I could imagine that his head was about to explode form so much information coming at him all at once. He said that it was more than he had anticipated but that he was grateful.
The best piece of advice I gave him was one that was given to me early on by several people-that as a “caregiver” to make sure that he takes to take care of himself.
I didn’t really know what that meant in the beginning, so focused was I on my mom and her welfare that I wasn’t really doing the best job of taking care of myself, so I don’t think I was best prepared for the “marathon” that this process of care is instead of the ‘sprint” that I was my initial approach.
Truth be told, l think that I’m “just’ beginning to take care of myself (a year into this process) which definitely impacts how I can care for my mom. But, it takes what it takes and as Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better”.
I told Lester that he wasn’t alone and that he could add me to list of people to call for support or if he ever just wanted to vent and have someone to listen (and not give advice, judgment or an opinion) I was here for him.
I got off the phone realizing that in talking to someone who was new to all this that I knew more than I thought I did. I was sorry for his situation but happy (for lack of a better word) that I could reach out and give what so many have given to me by way of support, empathy and information.