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4th Time's the Lesson

January 17, 2019

Truth be told, recently there are days when my mom's sweet personality disappears and a foreign force as a result of Alzheimer's wedges its way into her that has a voice all its own. My grandfather was effected in this way as well. Maybe it's in the genes and the mix of Alzheimer's with Italian blood. (God help me!) The reason I share this is not to invade and reveal my mom's privacy but to show the reality that every day is not filled with pleasant afternoons sipping cappuccinos while eating biscotti. Anyone who knows my mother knows this isn't my mother when an unpleasant mood overtakes her. By sharing the following story, I hope it will help someone faced with a challenging situation with their aging loved one, memory loss or not.

 

Last Thursday, I traveled to my mom's to take her to the doctor. She was in what I now like to call a feisty mood. I try to practice patience and to keep a calm tone of voice now more than ever before. Easy to decide this but not always easy to follow through with. Is patience really a virtue or can we train ourselves to become more patient over time and through experience? 

 

We made it through the appointment. In the car through her feistiness, she let me know she wanted breakfast (she already had breakfast), lunch, and coffee. Even though I was driving, I was following through with her requests. We drove through Panera for our breakfast/lunch, followed by the Starbucks drive-thru for yes, cappuccinos, and a quick pharmacy drive-thru to pick up a new medication her doctor had prescribed. When we were back at her house, her feistiness was in full force. 

 

Practice patience Marie

Calm tone of voice Marie

 

At one point my mom got the swiffer out to dust her floor. One of the most vivant memories I have of my mom is her dusting the wood floors of the house I grew up in and the one she lives in now. It's her thing to have the cleanest floor possible. What I thought about it or thought she should do didn't matter. So I walked from room to room with her while she swiffered because her agitation sometimes gives her the false confidence she doesn't need her walker. 

 

The scene: My mom has her cane in one hand. Swiffer in the other. Me at a close distance for safety. A voice she and I know isn't hers echoes through the rooms. Any response to her from me sets her off more. Any of my efforts to redirect her focus and the conversation are useless. Any recommendations I've read to help her through this are not working.The walls are hopefully taking notes to help me in the future

 

Practice patience Marie

Calm tone of voice Marie

 

She wanted to swiffer a second time.  I told her the floor was pretty clean after doing it once. It didn't help. So we walked and swiffered again. She talked more. I spoke less.

 

Breathe Marie

Practice patience

Calm tone of voice Marie

 

She wanted to swiffer a third time. She was so determined that she honestly didn't know how many times we had already gone over the floor. At this point, did it really matter? My patience was being tested. "3rd time's a charm" is a great saying when it actually happens. When it doesn't, sometimes the 3rd time around is the testing point for how we will push through or give up in a situation and what kind of ending will occur. The choice is our own. And her desire to swiffer a fourth time came. Yep. Four times.Too bad we couldn't have used a few of the times to dust my floors because they desperately need it! 

 

Inhale and exhale

Breathe

Practice

Calm

Take her hand

Walk with her

 

I walked with my mom a fourth time around her house without saying a word while she swiffered as her fiery voice began to cool down. There was a lesson to be learned here I thought. For me. Also, my gut feeling about not entirely agreeing with a particular phrase I hear frequently is speaking loud and clear within me. The phrase is the one that when a parent ages, and needs help to make decisions or what not, roles reverse, and the child must become the parent and the parent the child. Must? This has never settled well with me frankly because I think it can have a condescending tone if we aren't careful and the voice of the elderly may not be respected or heard. People also parent differently. Some fly a helicopter. Others take the driver's seat without listening to suggestions from the passenger. Then there are those who take hold of a hand and learn while they guide. This is where I fit in because here's my thought; this fiery side effect of Alzheimer's is like an infant crying or the terrible 2s in a child. I say this with all due respect for the young and the old.

 

In my experience, neither are intentional. Sometimes in the stages of infancy and toddlerhood, a demon overtakes a little human being like a ball of fire and spits out a burning rage that is hard to put out. My kids went through it and I know I gave my mom reasons to practice patience as well. Sometimes calming my kids down was difficult. Distracting them with something rarely worked. I didn't put them in a corner for a time out because they didn't do anything wrong but were under a spell that I didn't understand, and they couldn't use or find the words to tell me what they needed. I remember driving my oldest son around in the car to get him to stop crying. He'd start right back up when we got home. I remember my daughter crying straight for 2 hours in the car seat from Palm Springs to where we we lived in CA. Nothing smoothly worked for when my 3rd child had his crying fits. Last but not least, by the time my fourth came along, I finally learned that time would pass and tear stained cheeks would eventually fall asleep in my arms. A person with Alzheimer's can't help what's going on with them. Unfortunately, it is what it is, and I continue to learn. 

 

My mom eventually was satisfied after the 4th round of swiffering her floors, and it was as if her terrible mood got swept up with the dust as well. I gently began to talk again and encouraged her to relax in her recliner, and I rested myself on the couch next to her and closed my eyes. Patience may indeed be something one can acquire if continuously practiced with intention. I was my own witness, and my mother who is my mother returned as we ended in peace-filled wellness before I had to leave. 

 

I should create a memoir bracelet to link our palms together. Its charms would represent the many specific and different moments I have shared with my mom through her aging years. Some charms may not appear as shiny and lovely as others. But they are all valuable and belong together as each holds the value of love, respect, and patience. When all is said and done, it will remind me that through the pleasant and not so pleasant moments, it has been worth it.

 

Until,

Marie

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