Thursday, March 10, 2011

We can only promise to keep them safe

A note to a dear friend who's witnessing the cruel decline of her mother to Alzheimer's …

Hey sweetie, just saw your message about your mom and how this damn disease is continuing to steal the essence of that wonderful woman. I've long hoped that this horrific day would never come when you have to accept the very sad truth that she needs more care than you can provide directly for her anymore. I can only imagine how heartbroken you are at this moment, but YOU have done everything for your mom by giving her an abundance of love, countless hours of interaction and stimulation, and unparalleled compassion. You should NEVER feel any guilt today or tomorrow as YOU now make the best decision possible to keep her safe and comfortable.

YOU have honored an unspoken commitment and bond between parent and child to take care of your mom in her many hours of need in recent years. No one knows her better than YOU, and the heck with all those so-called family members who have abandoned YOU and your mom. They have no idea what precious moments they have lost forever because of their selfishness and lack of sensitivity. YOU have the memories of her laughter and song to savor forever. YOU have bestowed upon your mom the gift of a lifetime, giving her an incredible quality of life as she enters this final chapter of her life.

I will always remember your hugs of comfort and support when I started caring for my dad-in-law last spring. You were always asking about Pepaw and were so very kind and sweet the few times you met him in person. And we both know that, because of Alzheimer's, I could only make one promise to Pepaw: to keep him safe and comfortable throughout the ugliest moments of this terrible ordeal.

This is the same promise you've made to your mom.

I made a commitment to Pepaw to protect him, even though he was mad as hell at me for placing him in a secure environment. He may be a skinny little guy, but when I had to leave him, his shouts and pounding fist on that door rattled a part of me that I never knew existed, and it hurt so much, so very much.

Your mom may not even say a word when you have to leave her for the first time, but you're gonna feel that same painful shuddering so deep within you that you're positive in that moment that you'll never stop crying and certainly will never forgive yourself.

Sweetie, I promise you that the tears WILL slow, and you WILL forgive yourself for being human. You WILL be able to sleep again at night knowing that someone is keeping an eye on her and that she'll get the care she needs anytime day or night. You have carried her with warm and open arms for several years, and you need a break … because you are human.

Let me assure you that your mom WILL benefit from consistency in a care facility. Even as this damn disease continues to destroy Pepaw, he eats and sleeps better than before. Yes, you know we've had some adventures with him in recent months, but I am able to sleep again knowing that he's not angry or frightened anymore. My heart tells me he knows in his own way that he's in a safe environment with people who love him. He may forget, but he's not forgotten.

I have so admired how much of YOURSELF that you've given your mom. Now's the time to remember that Alzheimer's may steal her body but NEVER her feisty and free spirit that will always inhabit a huge chunk of your heart and soul. And don't forget what we've learned during this journey so far: we are their memories, we continue to tell their stories, we need to work harder than ever to make sure that not one more family has to endure the pain we share.

I embrace your courage. I am lifted by your love. I am so inspired by this beautiful human being that only YOUR mom could have created … YOU.

Much love and many hugs,