I’ve been away from posting for a long time. I take this as a positive sign of my recovery from grieving. But, do we ever fully recover?
Sure, I know grief is personal and subjective and everyone handles it differently; there is no right or wrong way. Everyone has their own timetable and needs to find their new normal.
But now and then those triggers pop up. Just when you think you have things under control – BOOM! – you see or read something that sets you back. This has happened to me a couple of times post-recovery. I try to avoid articles on dementia and Alzheimer’s because an uneasiness comes over me but at the same time, they draw me in; they’re so compelling. So, I’ll scan over them. Some are upsetting to me because I find myself second-guessing my care, reflecting on “should I have done this or that”, “why was I impatient at times….she couldn’t help it”, and the like.
Such an article, and a beautiful one, written by Dan Gasby set off that trigger recently. He is the husband and care partnerto supermodel, restaurateur, magazine publisher, celebrity chef, and nationally known lifestyle expert B. Smith, who has younger-onset Alzheimer’s,
The loss of my mother is still relatively new. In February it will be four years. I was depressed for the first 2 1/2 of those years during which I had a daughter and a son get married and welcomed two beautiful grandsons into our family; I now have a third due in a couple of months. Most days are good. When I think of my mother now I think of happy and fun times. I’m not bogged down by those deepest feelings of loss. That is a sign of recovery. I believe I have found my new normal.
Still, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her or miss her.
It seems a little surreal and hard to believe that today marks three years since mom’s been gone; seems just like yesterday and an eternity at the same time. I received sweet texts this morning from my daughter-in-law and friend, and phone calls from my daughters. I’ll visit mom later today and go to minyan tonight even though I went last week for her yahrzeit, the anniversary of the day of death in the Jewish calendar.
I went back into my email correspondence with Ted, trying to find something. I often referred to Ted as “T.” in my writing, and came across L’s exquisite eulogy that so embodied the essence of mom.
During the heavy grieving period we all cope differently. For me, it was wearing mom’s clothes and using her nail polish on my toes so when I looked down at my feet it was like looking at hers. And today, I’m wearing one of her sweaters and a pair of sandals that I bought with her.
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of mom or tell her how much I love her. As Ted so poignantly and elegantly told me as only he could, “nothing dies that is remembered.”
In that case, mom is very much alive in me … and always will be.
Something very strange happened to me last month. Or maybe it’s not so strange. For all the positive steps moving forward in grieving the loss of a loved one, you can stumble. And that happened to me last month.
I still get the shakes when I see the word “Alzheimer’s” in a heading or within text. Still, I read a review of “Still Alice” in The New York Times last month. But it was the readers’ comments that hit me hard.
As I read some of them, I started crying. They brought me back to my care-giving experiences. Not only did I share many of the readers’ experiences but it caused me, again, to question my care: Did I do everything I could? I knew mom had dementia but did my denial of Alzheimer’s hamper my care-giving? Should I have quit my job to be with her all the time? I still see her big smile and eyes light up when I would stop by for breakfast on my way to work. Could I or should I have done things differently? My friends and brother will give an emphatic “No!”
I think care-givers always have these doubts, especially after losing their loved one. But these comments hit such a nerve in me and set a trigger off so much so that I contacted my local Alzheimer’s Association to look into a support group. And as I’m on the phone with the rep, I just started bawling. My emotions were just so raw – something not experienced for a long time as I was doing so well.
Well, after calling the group’s facilitator and finding out she was no longer there, I guess I got over “it” because I chose not to follow through and lost interest. I’m still thinking of contacting them to find a group. In the grieving process one thing I have found, at least for me, is the need to talk. I’m sure it’s the same for most.
As Mother’s Day approaches, my thoughts naturally turn to mom, although rarely does a day go by that I don’t think about her. But particularly with Mother’s Day, I’ve been remembering ones from the recent past like when my brother came down and surprised her and me making a special meal since we both hated going out to eat on Mother’s Day with all the crowds. I probably got that from her!
This will be my second Mother’s Day without mom, and not surprisingly, my feelings of loss have not waned.
While looking for a birthday card for a friend I was bombarded with Mother’s Day card displays. I couldn’t help myself and began looking through some that I might have considered had I had someone to send it to. Mom and I both preferred cards with very few lines of words but that conveyed a loving and powerful message. We both favored simplicity.
It’s not just Mother’s Day but every day circumstances that continue to bring memories to the surface, like this morning. The smell of turkey bacon cooking in the microwave at work took me back to the brunches we shared at her independent living facility – how the wait staff served her, how her friends greeted her, and just the special time we spent a couple of Sundays each month.
As I drive by the Botanic Garden, I remember our time at the annual Japanese Festival and the Butterflies in the Garden exhibit. At our local performing arts venue I remember the concerts and plays we saw. In essence, just about everywhere I go there are memories of mom.
And so, as this Mother’s Day approaches, I lovingly remember the last one we spent together in 2011, with her wearing a sticker from a card one of the kids gave her – “Best Nana Ever.” That she was.
Even though we don’t verbally tell each other how we feel, he knows that I love him and I know he loves me. And while we’ve always had a good, close relationship, mom’s death has definitely brought us even closer I feel. After all, out of our nuclear family it’s just us now.
He called me last night to thank me for sending him something, and to chastise me for continuing to blame myself for mom’s fall last September. In short, he read an earlier post where I once again questioned this.
He was upset that I feel that I maybe didn’t do enough or could have done things differently. He has constantly told me, just like my friends and family have, what an incredible job I was doing and had done as mom’s caregiver, and how much he appreciated it. He felt bad about me doing everything and always let me know that he was there for me and that I could call anytime.
I know he’s there for me as I am for him. That’s what family is for. But I also know this grieving process is going to take me a good long time.
Medicine is a better profession because of Dr. K. She is the embodiment of everything any patient or family would want in a doctor – warm and engaging, incredible rapor and bedside manner, optimistic while being realistic. She is a medical superstar. If only more doctors were like her.
Through my own readings and as Dr. K. explains, a patient can spend many years in the early, mild stages of dementia as mom apparently has. As the disease progresses from moderate to severe there is less time between stages so the decline is more noticeable; there are more functional impairments. This is what I am seeing now, and let me tell you, it’s quite painful.
Based on my descriptions to Dr. K., mom is definitely moving into the next stage of dementia. This is a frightful disease. There is no stopping it. It is a constant, insidious progression. With certain thresholds of damage there is a larger functional decline.
Mom now has what Dr. K. calls apraxia — she is unable to take what I’m telling her and act upon it. This is most visible in my reminders to her to take her meds, which is why I started having someone come up to give them to her. Behaviorally, she recently started to sometimes get a little confused, mostly in the afternoon; this was most evident this past Wednesday. She has also developed a degree of apathy, another symptom of the progression of the disease.
I’m hoping to get her into assisted living by the end of the month. I still question and wonder if I waited too long to move forward with this. Dr. K has reassured me I haven’t. She told me there’s no right or wrong — that I was just trying to help her maintain her independence for as long as I could, and not to beat myself up over this.
Can’t say that’s been easy for me to do these past couple of days.