Alzheimer’s brings reversal of roles

To my aching friend,

Thanks for writing about your mother. I empathize with your need to let the air out before you blow your top. It’s the reversal of roles. Now you are the parent, the responsible one. She is the one unable to do her part. You have a particularly crushing affliction to deal with.

Alzheimer’s. It is a slow poison. It stretches the heartstrings until the one you care for becomes a stranger.

To watch her disintegrate daily is painful. But she needs you now more than ever. You are bearing the weight of all you mean to each other by yourself. Sadness is a heavy load, but I can assure you that the agony will pass.

Millions of us have been down that same trail with loved ones, be it Alzheimer’s, cancer, dementia or old age. The emotional cost of chronic debilitating disease is like rust on a battleship. It leaves you more vulnerable to sinking spells. I still have them.

My own sweet mother, a young widow who raised four boys, outlived two husbands, survived several major health problems, and did it all with grace and faith and endurance, died last year at the age of 91. She lived with us her last five years.

When we, like you right now, are in the position of caring for those we love, we watch them change into someone we don’t know. We grit our teeth and forge on; giving pills, cleaning sheets, cooking meals, doing dishes, driving to the doctor, making sure we don’t miss Wheel of Fortune, and often sleeping beside them to keep them safe from themselves through the night. We steel our emotions, concentrate on the mundane and perform the duties required to get them through the day. It can be frustrating, exhausting and heart-wrenching.

But when the end finally comes, these weary, aching, sometimes unkind feelings, that have taken their toll on our compassion, will disappear overnight. Take comfort in knowing that the difficult person you have been caring for, is not the same person that will live on in your heart.

I have the solace of knowing that when my mother walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, she feared no evil. She told me many times. I believed her. She is with God. She has taken her place in the Heavens now. She prefers the planets; Venus, Jupiter, Saturn. She moves around so that I can almost always find her when I look up at the night sky.

And I talk to her and I miss her but I’m no longer sad. She beams down on me full of life, and it is her smile and bright eyes that I remember. I’ve got her back.