By Linda Kozar
If mama could remember, she’d know the names of all her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She’d delight them with stories about her childhood growing up on a farm. If mama could remember, she’d whip up some of our favorite family recipes in the kitchen. She’d recall what she wore yesterday and wonder why she’s wearing the same thing today. If only mama could remember . . .
Are you a caregiver? I’ve been one for three years now. My mother whom we affectionately call, “Mama Rose” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and will be eighty-one this month. Other than Alzheimer’s, she’s is remarkable health, and up until last year, on absolutely no medications. My siblings and I share caring for our mother in five-month periods, an arrangement that is sometimes difficult for us, but noticeably beneficial to her.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org), Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes. The disease is named for Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician who presented a case history before a medical meeting in 1906—of a 51-year-old woman who suffered from a rare brain disorder. A later autopsy revealed and identified the characteristic plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Hearing that diagnosis pronounced on a loved on is difficult to endure. The very first thing I imagined was a scene from the 1968 science fiction film classic, 2001, A Space Odyssey, when the lead character, Dr. David Bowman begins shutting down the rogue HAL 9000 computer’s processor core. As each bank of stored information is shut down, HAL eventually regresses to his earliest programmed memory, the song, “Bicycle Built for Two,” which he sings for Bowman. “Daisy, Daisy/Give me your answer, do/I’m half crazy/all for the love of you.”
Would my mother’s mind diminish in like manner? And would all her wonderful characteristics and personality be reduced to its lowest form? I grieved that diagnosis, as did my sister and brother. Our prayers for her continue, in spite of that pronouncement.
There are several scriptures I hold onto: John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said unto you,” and Philippians 4:7, “ . . . And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (KJV)
All in all, I know my sister, brother and I, made the right decision to take care of our mother. She is far better off being with us and interacting with her extended family than living alone or in a facility. We all love her and lavish affection on Mom. We feed her well, dispense medicine as needed, and provide constant companionship. Is caregiving hard? Yes, most definitely. And any activity we think of scheduling during our five-month rotation absolutely has to include her.
Mom asks the same questions of me, constantly and consistently. Each question she asks is a first for her, but for me, one of a hundred repetitions. One day, I came up with an idea. Was it possible Mom could keep a memory of a daily routine or schedule? If so, I could use repetition to my advantage. I scheduled her life around meals, two daily walks, and a relaxing soak in peppermint bath salts before bedtime. Once the schedule was implemented, she began to settle down. She still asked lot of questions, but not as many as before. I do my best to answer, but whenever I become frustrated with repetitive questions, I leave the room, pray a lot and regain my composure before she starts the process again.
Alzheimer’s has changed my mother’s view of the world, but because of the disease, she’s been able to teach me some very important things. Mom notices the smallest details—like the shape of a cloud or a sparrow flitting from tree to tree. And each day she finds some sort of lost treasure on the ground, while on a walk together, or in the mall or even a parking lot. Mom finds the most unusual items on the ground! I keep jars of her sparkly finds, and often wonder if some are tiny diamonds lost from ring settings or earrings. She also finds coins, little plastic toys, sequins, metal pieces, dice, buttons, tacks, beads—you name it.
|Mom's Little Treasures Jar|
And rocks. We have a large quantity of river stones in our landscaping. She began to focus on the broken ones for some reason. One day, I began to understand why. She showed me the interior of the stones--ribbons of color, banded and swirled. Amazing. Why didn’t I ever notice them before?
Mom is teaching me to see the beauty inside the things I take for granted. The beauty inside simple stones, in the flight patterns of butterflies and birds, and the parfait of puffy, white clouds above our heads. All these nuances, like a twinkle in God’s eye, are special, beautiful—a wonder to behold.
She’s also teaching me patience. Everything I ever thought I knew about patience before is nothing to the patience required in caregiving. I often remind myself--she didn’t ask for this. She didn’t want Alzheimer’s. But she does want to be loved, to live in grace and dignity. The time I offer to care for her is the time I’m giving back to the woman who dried my tears, who treated me with tender care throughout my childhood and adult years, who taught me, sacrificed for, and loved me unconditionally.
Every evening, when my mom is ready to go upstairs to bed, I stand at the bottom and watch as she slowly climbs the stairwell. When she reaches the landing, she always turns to me and says, “Good night.”
And I answer, “See you in the morning.”
But one day I know my mother will go to be with the Lord and I imagine we will exchange different words. I see her climbing a heavenly staircase illuminated by the glory of God, her knees nimble and quick, a wide smile upon her sweet face. She will turn to me, and instead of saying good night, she’ll whisper a soft good-bye.
With tears in my eyes I will wave and answer, “See you in the morning, mama.”
For you see, the night is long indeed, but joy comes in the morning.