A woman’s discovery of a priceless gift:
It took me exactly 8 months to realize that I was in over my head. All the hopes and dreams I had carried with me on the airplane to fetch my mother from Florida crashed down around me like waves. For 240 mornings, afternoons and nights, I struggled to be my mom’s everything. Dementia had set in early, a brain injury accelerating the process that had plagued generations of my family before. I would learn later that it was the dreaded “A” word, Alzheimer’s and from then on, I felt like I was living on a rickety wooden plank in a stormy sea, never able to catch my balance.
The time had come. I needed help. Making the decision to move her to a facility was a sucker punch to the gut. I struggled with guilt, depression, and sadness. I had made a promise to my grandmother that I would take care of her daughter, and letting others take that on, felt wrong somehow.
I cannot tell you how many nights I cried for frankly I lost count. I was defeated and angry, completely overwhelmed. Then, one day, something beautiful happened. I learned a lesson I’ve carried with me ever since. I’m not Super Human. I don’t have a secret power that allows me to go without sleep. I’m don’t possess unusual strength, the kind that would allow me to lift a woman a hundred pounds heavier than me from yet another fall. I don’t have the education that declared me her doctor, her nurse, her therapist and priest. I was after all, just human, infallible, vulnerable and scared. There was no need for others to judge me, I was playing the role just fine on my own. Acceptance began with a conversation, much like the one I am writing to you right now. A dear friend told me that asking for help was not failing, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Asking for help meant that I loved her and myself enough to go back to the most important job of all, being her daughter for whatever time we had left.
I won’t sugar coat it and say it was easy. The transition was hard on both of us. In time, though, we adjusted, finding a new normal in a world that had once felt upside down.
It’s been 5 years since our story began. Every day she remembers a tiny bit less. She no longer knows my number, she no longer knows what day of the week it is or where she lives. She doesn’t know when she is wet, and can’t remember if she has eaten, even when her meal has just finished. For all that she is forgetting though, her smile is the same. Her eyes, still crinkle at the corner and her laughter can fill the room. In saying I couldn’t do it all, I was given the gift of getting to do one thing really well, cherishing her for who she is, even when it changes day by day.
Care givers are not just the people who change a person’s clothes, or give them a bath. They are not just the people who run trays to a table or cook a meal. Care givers, the ones who come to your home or work with your loved one in a facility, they are your tribe. Your village that is there for you when you need it the most.
You do NOT have to be everything to be a good daughter, a good grandchild or son. You just need to be there. Cherish each moment, turn them into the memories that you will keep with you for life. Care givers do so much more than clean or bathe or cook, they give family members time with those they love and that is an undeniable gift.