There’s no question that caregiving is one of the deepest of human experiences. It rattles your cage, getting under your skin so you feel wet without once touching water. You spend days floating like an astronaut in space, carrying so much sadness that you don’t know if you’ll ever know happy again. Welcome to Caregiving. It’s what you do with it that matters.
I know. I’ve been there and here’s the one adjustment I made that might help you, too. I started to really listen to my mother, which sounds crazy since she made little sense when she spoke gibberish. But I reminded myself that she had been a good mother to me, teaching me how to love and responsibly attend to what is important in life.
Those were things that I admired about myself, so I was committed to finding the courage to be part of her final journey, regressing from adult to child to toddler to infant to ashes.
So when my mother didn’t talk, I watched so I could listen to her heart. When she showed her frustration by acting angry, I looked at the fear in her eyes and tried to put it at bay. And when she would say that she wanted to go home, I’d start to describe some of the special foods we’d enjoy at family parties — rice and beans, plantains, lechon asado (roast pork). I’d put on salsa music and we would dance while the smells of Puerto Rico restored our time together.
Then I’d bring her into the common area, and she would smile at all the residents as if she had known them all of her life. I’d sit her down, give her a kiss and watch the staff fold her into the activity while giving me a wink that everything was going to be fine and I could take my leave.
I’d thank them, and then rush off to work, a world that my mother would find incomprehensible.
I compulsively researched online information about Alzheimer’s only to reread the stages of the disease. There was nothing in my research that could miraculously pull her out of this state. It was an exercise to help pull myself out of the funk that many caregivers find themselves in. I wondered how the staff at the nursing home did it. How did they handle so much sadness?
Perhaps it was because they knew how to listen with their hearts. They knew how to speak to the residents on their levels. If I was going to survive caregiving, I needed to learn from my new friends who worked at these facilities and also to thank them for doing a job that I found incomprehensible.
In the meantime, I’d continue listening to the music that gave my mother a smile. I was never going to let Alzheimer’s divorce us from our love to dance.
Celia Pomerantz, the author and photographer of “Alzheimer’s: A Mother Daughter Journey”, relates her stories about using salsa dancing and compassionate caregiving through guest blogging and public speaking. She tweets and shares stories on Facebook. She also can be reached [email protected]