The routine is everything for a person with dementia. Knowing this as a caregiver I make every possible effort at “sameness”. However, sometimes that’s not possible and in the last couple weeks that’s been the case. Combine this with the reality that my Mom’s disease is progressive makes things even harder. What she could handle a year ago she can’t handle now.
More than once when I would get to her condo, I found her either agitated or sad. She’d shake her head and say things like, “My brain is not working.” The hardest to hear is, “I think I’m losing my mind,” because she is. When I hear this, it feels like someone is reaching down my throat and pulling my heart out. I choke back tears and summon whatever courage I have to say, “It’s okay Mom I’m here. Let me sort it out.”
The anxiety it creates is taking a toll. At her doctor this week I learned that her already high blood pressure has climbed dangerously high. We’re both concerned but my Mom can’t remember to be. “I’m fine,” she tells us. This is when I get taken out of the room and the doctor starts discussing interventions.
It takes me back to years of consultation with all sorts of experts about my kids and what they needed to handle their ever-present-autistic-anxiety. My head swims. Now do I get to become an expert on managing anxiety in the elderly person with dementia I ask myself. Oh my gosh what about mine? It’s killing me or at least it feels like it is. Most days I don’t think I have the emotional grit for this.
This is why on Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed to go to the earliest possible yoga class. My body needed the release. When I got there, I ran into a lady who’s a therapist that used to work with the boys. She asked about them and I told her about all the things going so well in their lives. It was the perfect way to start the day. After class she took ahold of my wrist and said, “I hope you know that your boys have made all this progress because of you.”
I started to tear-up. “Thank you for saying that,” I said. “But I always flinch at that because so many parents do everything possible for their kids without the same result. I know it’s a compliment but it’s hard to receive.”
She wasn’t going to have anything to do with this. “I know,” she said. “I get that but you always found the strength to stick with it.”
To that I didn’t know what more to say so I hugged her. Driving away from class I decided to stop at Starbucks hoping to find that strength she mentioned in a cup of tea. Approaching the counter to order I saw a dime on the floor that seemed to say, you’ll find it here. I also saw a Post-It with the numbers 4.0 on it. You don’t usually see Post-It’s on the ground so I looked around. That’s when I discovered a small wall with Post-It’s all over it.
The barista saw my puzzled look and said, “We’re asking everyone to write what they want for Christmas down and put it on our wall here. Right next to him was a cube of notes and a pen. I grabbed the pen and the word that came to mind was “JOY”. I want the joy of the Lord for Christmas. He smiled as he watched me write it down.
When I went to stick it to the wall I felt drawn to the center where there were probably no spaces. As I got closer, I saw the spot my joy was meant to have—next to notes that said “Chase” and “Barbie Camper.” My first thought was I have a Chase and when I asked years ago, I got a Barbie camper—one my Mama saved her pennies to buy me from the Sears Roebuck catalog.
The Holy Spirit seemed to say, on the hardest days with your Mom look at your boys. Look how far you’ve come with them. I gave you the strength you needed then and I’m giving you the strength you need now. You might not “feel” like you’ve got what it takes but you do. Find your joy in that truth.
On a daily basis this is what the enemy wants me to forget but God wants me to remember. Joy isn’t elusive, slivers of it can be found in the smallest things and that’s where you find your strength. When quitting isn’t an option reflection is. This was the message tucked between Peggy’s words and the Post-It’s—look back Karen so you can better face what’s in front of you. Trust that He who began a good work in you will indeed see it through to completion.