Still Here…But Barely…
I’ve been dealing with a few relatives who have Alzheimer’s and Dementia lately and it’s been pretty hard ~ for them and for me. It’s amazing to me how quickly this disease can rob our loved ones of their basic mental capacity let alone complex thinking. But what remains, at least for the ones I’m taking care of, is love.
They know I love them and I know they love me. So far, we are blessed that each recognizes family members even though they don’t quite know all the details. Most information seems new to them at times and yet at others, they are quite cognizant of what has occurred recently in their lives (which has been another relative who passed away).
Childhood memories fill their conversations along with much giggling of good times shared for which I am eternally grateful. Stories are repeated, almost to the letter in a conversation, but the giggle at the end remains the same. It is the giggling that I relish when they retell their stories. It is the frustration that I continue to keep at bay as much as possible, dredging up as much patience as I possibly can to answer repeated questions in a simple way in hopes that they can keep the information for a bit longer this time.
But I what I loved the most after spending time with them and getting 2 sisters together for a few days was the love and laughter that they shared even though both are affected by those diseases. Precious moments were spent watching them as they interacted, finishing each other’s stories and slowly winding down memory lane together arm in arm, heart to heart, sister to sister.
It was tough though I will admit. Tough to watch, knowing that they may not recognize each other the next time they meet. Wondering how much longer they will know who I am or remember how many blissful hours they spent over the last few days together. I watched as I wondered how much longer they will be here, both in mind and body. Sadly, I thought about them and myself and the loss that is coming. I lamented in my own mind how much life has changed for them ~ the vibrant women I once knew to now.
Simpler times for sure growing up in a small town in the South. Watching them banter back and forth, giggling like school girls at times, recalling fun memories and sharing stories. We kept away from the sad as much as possible as I redirected many a conversation which teetered on the verge of today’s truth. Light, sweet and joyful was the theme of the conversations as much as possible. When we began gravitating towards sad truths, I redirected as much as I could with honesty, trying to save their minds from what I know in my heart, they understand ~ that a loved one has passed.
It’s heartbreaking to bear witness to how the mind can completely make and break connections. One minute, you think they are understanding and the next minute, you realize that they haven’t a clue of what we just talked about and they don’t recognize where they are or who they are seeing (other than me thank goodness). So far, when I say it’s me, they know me.
What I am grateful for is the hugs, the kisses on the cheek, the love that we share as I watch them begin to descend into the abyss of oblivion. I want to hold tightly to the memories of my last trip, praying that when I return, there will still be enough there for them to recognize each other and me so that we can share more joy, laughter and love.
But I don’t know quite honestly if my wish can be fulfilled. So I will be grateful for the memories we shared, for the present moments that we have and for the gratitude that I was able to be there for them both and with them both for as long as I could.
It’s not easy to be a caregiver of family whose brains cease to function as they did. It’s not easy to witness what is scary for them and for me as reality changes so abruptly. It’s a big responsibility and I don’t think most of us are prepared for it. Tears flowed freely as did the occasional giggle when their conversations made me laugh. I am grateful for those things as well, for life is all about the laughter and the tears, don’t you think? That and staying present, being grateful and just loving what is right now, this minute.