Daily Journeys of a Caregiver
By Kathleen Brown
I discovered Mother’s illness on a trip with my parents to visit my son in college. As we drove from Texas to Colorado, the signs of her dementia became increasingly pronounced. Finally, in my son’s apartment, they couldn’t be ignored. Fears I had pushed back came crashing in as I watched my father fight to control my mother.
Her eyes were narrow and angry–her cries echoed in the little apartment. One bare foot kicked at my father as he held her seated on the brown hand-me-down couch. He called her name and I shouted, “Mama! That’s Daddy! It’s Daddy!”
All this because I told her she shouldn’t take a walk alone on a cold evening in a strange place. Oh, yes – and barefoot. She wanted to go barefoot.
Bending close to her flying hands and feet, I tried to make her see me, hear me. Somehow, in the midst of the melee, “Alzheimer’s” surfaced in my mind.
We embarked on another journey that day, through the wilderness of Alzheimer’s. My father, 81, acted more like 70, vigorous in thought and action save for his failing eyesight. My mother, 78, acted 10 years older. For 50 years they had faced life as a team of two-become-one; now Alzheimer’s threatened to pull my mother down a dark path where my father couldn’t follow.
I was 49, with three sons, grown and on their own. The youngest, Mark, was finishing college, working at his dream job, beginning his own journey into adulthood.
What would he think, I wondered, of this bizarre scene when he returned home from work?
As evening became night, I guessed my mother just wore herself out. Now I realize I was seeing the first of many miracles that in coming years would bless me whenever I thought I could stand no more. The disease simply slunk away, leaving my mother silent, spent. At last she closed her eyes and I covered her with an ivory afghan.
When Mark came home, bringing with him the fresh air of pure, unknowing happiness, his grandmother greeted him by name. He was so happy to see us, and kissed his grandmother’s soft, wrinkled face. As though the last hours were only a bad dream, she accepted Mark’s hug and kiss. We watched, I in disbelief, my father with a look that said, “I’ve seen this before. Let’s pretend nothing happened.”
So we did. We called out for food and Mark told stories of the job that took him to remote areas of mountain wilderness. I thanked God for the relaxed love on my mother’s face as she listened, her hand idly patting Mark’s arm. Nothing in her behavior hinted of the angry chaos she experienced earlier.
I began my care giving. Long term care for someone you love – a parent, a spouse, a child – is a road paved with questions. As I traveled that road, searching for answers, I found hard realities. Sad truths. And miracles. Along the dark path through the deep woods that is Alzheimer’s, I found the blessing of the Lord, His promises kept. We traveled through times of almost unbearable sadness, but we were also refreshed by moments when laughter rang loud and true.
While I cared for my mother, the Lord cared for us both. He sent kind people to meet us, some fellow caregivers, some professional guides, but all His helpers, waiting along the path, ready to help, encourage, or simply smile. They were the sweetest miracles of all, the ones for whom I was most grateful.
Each of us is called to be a caregiver in our own way. Whether you’re caring for a loved one yourself, or you’re able to encourage and help someone who is, I pray you find hope and the strength of the God who has our names engraved on His hand. May you see His loving hand extended to you as you walk, so you can look up from the bumpy road and see the beauty along the way. Keep your eyes open! This is a time for miracles.