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Life Lessons Are Not Always Easy

By Mary Muir, M.Ed.

 

This week has taken me on a journey I never wanted to take. For the first time, my mother does not know me. She has lost all connection to my face, my identity and my voice. For the past five years, Mom has been suffering with Alzheimer’s and lives in a rest home nearby. Every day, my husband and I have visited her and taken her out for a ride or for tea. It has been a special ritual that helped her quality of life and provided sensory stimulation Likewise, it has given us the satisfaction of knowing she looked forward to our times together.

In December, she became 100 years old. Even then, she was able to walk without a cane and chat about the simple joys of nature, trees, sunshine, clouds and changing weather. I often joked that she is my best teacher on focusing and coming into the present moment.

July 2009 will long live in my memory. It is the beginning of an ending. It marks the beginning of an end of life as we knew it and an ending of a life as her only child, her daughter.

After returning from a few days’ vacation, my husband and I were both shocked to find that my mom has “lost” any memory of us or the fact that we are married. She has forgotten entirely that we have been coming to see her daily for the past five years. She continues to ask me who I am, if I know where her daughter is and why her daughter never comes to visit.

I am familiar with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I knew that this could happen one day, although one is never prepared for the emotional impact of becoming a total stranger to your own mother.

These changes are further evidence that the disease in now progressing full scale to take away even the smallest consolations we had as caregivers and that she had as an Alzheimer’s victim.

Unless one has had an “up close and personal” encounter with a family member who has dementia, it is difficult to imagine the heartbreak it creates and the amount of emotional readjustment it demands from both caregiver and loved one.

I have been told that the best way to approach our visits now is to avoid making any reference to being her daughter. Unless she brings it up, I do not mention that I have been there to see her. In spite of the personal pain I am feeling, it is important to confront the reality and not walk away from her at a time when she is most vulnerable.

Consequently, I must now try to focus on the calmness and comfort I can bring to her. We have let go of titles and relationships. We are now just two pilgrims on this journey and our focus is on how to relate purely at the heart level. I am holding on to the moments of comfort in the midst of pain and suffering over a lifetime of lost memories.

May you never have to take this life changing journey
May you not put off making time for those you care for and
May you remember to cherish and appreciate your loved ones
While you can.

Note from Mary: This is my personal story, but I hope it has a message for other families who are facing the progression of Alzheimer’s and its impact on relationships.

 

Mary Muir, M.Ed., has an extensive background and experience in Counseling, Mind Body Wellness, Reiki, Pastoral Counseling and Healing Arts. She has conducted numerous Women’s Groups, CEU Programs, Professional Development Workshops, Spiritual Practice Groups and Women’s Wellness Retreats throughout New England.

 

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