By Michelle F. Solomon
My mother and I were the best of friends. And when I began to care for her when she started to have dementia, even though I didn’t like her disease (I hated it), I ended up taking it on as another chapter in our lives.
She passed away in 2019, but I still have our memories, including my time as her caregiver, which I cherish.
I once read the First Step from Alcoholics Anonymous in a self-help book. One day it popped into my head: “I am powerless.” I started to say this First Step to myself in the beginning of Mom’s dementia. “I am powerless over my mother’s Alzheimer’s/dementia.”
I was powerless. There was nothing I or anyone could do to change how she was slipping into another stage in her life. Either I could go with it and try my best to enjoy my last years with her, or I could fight it.
I decided I didn’t want our lives to “become unmanageable.” I would embrace our new normal for the well-being of both of us. Not to say I wasn’t suffering anxiety, I was, but I knew it was best for me to be “whole” to be available for her. Every caregiver’s “whole” is different. For mine, being such a thinker, I knew I had to keep my mental health intact and not let the anxiety I was feeling over everything going on to take over.
I began to say this mantra every morning.
“I am powerless over Mom’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia, but I can make it manageable.”
There was a lot to manage, but for me I knew how important it would be when she was gone that I had spent those last years with her. I made up my mind to meet her where she was in her (our) Alzheimer’s/Dementia journey. And while I missed the vivacious, brilliant Mom I knew for so many years, the last chapter of her life and mine together could hold cherished moments for us still.
I made a picture book of all of the places we had been together: New York City, a lot. Mom loved Broadway shows. Las Vegas. Her visiting me when I was in college in Boston. Instead of asking her, “Do You Remember?” I would tell her stories of what we did, the shows we saw, where we shopped and what we bought.
It soothed me and she loved the stories even though she couldn’t grasp that they were her memories — our memories together. I sang her Broadway show tunes. We watched Shirley Temple movies and ate cupcakes. My mother always watched her weight but now she loved cupcakes. Manageable.
Being a caregiver to a loved one suffering from this terrible disease is one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had to go through. Don’t get me wrong. And everyone’s loved one and every caregiver’s experience is different.
But maybe the answer is in that first step: “I am powerless over my loved one’s Alzheimer’s/Dementia. But I can manage it. I can.
If you have questions about Alzheimer’s or other dementia, please call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 or visit alz.org.