Last Sunday my family held Thanksgiving dinner – my sister and her three adult children and one of my sons came home. We love family gatherings which is the reason that my family brought my mother home for the afternoon. Now that she is in a wheelchair it is much more difficult for us to make that happen. It means that the boys (the young and strong!) carry her and her wheelchair up the front steps and into the house. Because our house is small with narrow hallways, and our bathroom is not wheel-chair accessible, the bathroom “visit” becomes an issue! Since my mother resists any assistance from the “men,” the bathroom duty becomes my sister’s and my responsibility. You would think after caring for my father for three years, and after all these years attending to my mother, that would be a simple task. But anyone who has cared for a loved one who has a dementia-related disease knows that this is simply not true. Bathroom duty is a fight with my mother, each and every time. She doesn’t recognize that she has a dementia and she has forgotten most elementary, basic abilities and skills; therefore, she resists our attempts to help her – she pushes us away and attempts to stand on her own, usually unsuccessfully, and hence, falls or other mishaps are the norm.
But in spite of the past (the past is no longer relevant now), each celebratory occasion or holiday you will find my sister and I ensuring that our mother comes home for the holiday meal. We do this for one reason: we honour that the very reason that we sit down and celebrate our holidays all began with our mother. She loved holidays and always cooked too much food, prepared too many desserts, and over-decorated the table. Because of our love for tradition (a tradition that my mother started), Sue and I try to bring Mom home to celebrate.
This Thanksgiving, as my sister wheeled her into the dining room and she approached the table, she let out an appreciative sigh, “Oh, Marilyn, lovely!” She especially loved the pumpkin display, but couldn’t remember the name of the vegetable. (Is a pumpkin a vegetable or fruit?) But she recognized the bouquet of simple zinnias and labelled them “pretty.”
It is moments like this that I wonder at the mystery of this disease called Alzheimer’s…she remembered that she loved flowers (she grew zinnias when I was a young child) but she couldn’t label them, or the pumpkins. But the pure delight on her face was still genuine!
During the meal she spoke aloud many times, always with the same inquiry: “When do we open the gifts?” Each time we would patiently explain that there were no gifts; gifts came at Christmas, not Thanksgiving. Finally, our kids announced, “Nanny, let’s have gifts next Thanksgiving! Your idea is a good one.” She understood that and grinned. Or, maybe she didn’t understand their words, but understood their “loving energy.”
After my mother returned to the long-term care facility that she has been residing at for two years, my husband announced that he felt that “things went well, this time.” I laughed. Yes, this was a good visit.
Once again I realized how important it is to live in the Now, and how important it is to let go of the memories of the other visits when we have brought Mom home and things did not go well. And how important it is to let go of the worrying thoughts of future visits…”What about Christmas?” (People with Alzheimer’s often get very agitated during the holiday season. There must be an energy in the air…many adult children of residents where my mother lives agree with me that our loved ones become anxious and over-stimulated. Some residents have refused to leave their rooms.)
There will come a day when our family cannot bring mom home to our house – we have too many stairs, and we depend on our sons and their strength to carry her. But in the meantime it is important to honour her as best we can. When she no longer appreciates or enjoys the homecoming because of her dementia, we will “let go” of one more tradition. And that day will come. We know that because we have learned to let go of other traditions, many times. Each time it does become easier…or maybe we have just learned to go with the flow. I hope that is the reason…because I believe that each of us is like a river – we flow gently along…or we hurdle along. To flow gently with acceptance is my daily intent.
“Trust is shorthand for going with the flow.” Marianne Williamson