When caregiving consumed my days, I wrote about it frequently, and I wrote about my Dad’s dementia that required caregiving. Many people said that helped them. Things have eased up quite a bit for me now that I’m only responsible for one parent, but it’s still a difficult season.
Small losses keep coming. Some days the losses are bigger than others, but each small loss is a grief. Each one is something to be mourned, a series of losses that anticipate the big one to come.
Mom has blossomed in the year she’s lived in her new assisted living home. We live five minutes away and visit all the time. She has mild cognitive impairment, so her memory’s shaky, but she’s still Patti. She hasn’t changed.
She’s happy. She’s safe. She’s content. Her faith in Jesus grows stronger every day. She has lots of social interaction and has completely charmed all the residents and staff. She’s cared for and cared about.
Mom will turn 90 in about six weeks. She’s been talking about her 90th birthday for over a year now. Whether it’s on her actual birthday or not, the next time my brother comes to visit, we will have a party for her. When you turn 90, you get to celebrate all year long. You also have a lot of memories competing for space and time becomes fluid.
After she tells us how much she doesn’t like grits, Mom says the same things every time we see her. Mostly, what she says makes me laugh.
“All my children’s names start with K.” Our names are Kurt and Taryn.
She tells me that when she lays down at night, she repeats to herself “Kurt, Taryn” so she won’t forget our names. She hasn’t yet, but she does get a little confused. In one sentence, I can morph between me, my anonymous twin, her niece, and her sister.
“I had a boy-girl, then another boy-girl.” She just had one boy, then one girl. I think she’s thinking or her mother’s four grandchildren.
“Did you do that or did your sister?” “Did you bring me that or did your sister?” I don’t have a sister.
Usually I say something like, “It’s always me. My sister never does anything.”
“My girls take such good care of me. It’s so much work I need two girls to do it.”
“What are the odds that both my girls married men named Steve? And both of the Steves are having their knees operated on.”
“Pretty rare, Mom.”
She refers to my husband and this other guy as The Steves.
“How are The Steves today?”
“I forget which Steve you’re married to.”
“The good-looking one, Mom.”
Dad would call my mother Patti–the nice version of herself–and he’d talk about the Other Patti. He described the Other Patti as someone who stomped down the hallway and told him what to do.
Other things Mom says echoes my father’s comments the last year of his life. As we drive up to our house, Mom might say, “I recognize this house.”
The next day, she says, ” Did you know ‘they’ had me over for a cookout?” Steve and I are the “they.”
Reminds me of bringing Dad to our house. As we’d drive up, he’d say, “I know this house. I’ve been here before. Did you buy this house from Steve and Taryn?”
I’d say, “No, we didn’t. That would actually have been pretty hard to do, Dad.”
This Christmas was joyful and peaceful at our home, a welcome change from the year before when we spent the day in the emergency room with Mom. She was very disoriented then. Her husband was dying, she had frequent falls, and she hadn’t slept in days. The night we returned from the hospital, she slept about an hour and I slept less than that, on a cot at the top of the stairs so she wouldn’t take a tumble.
The next morning, Mom said she’d figured out who I was. She asked if I spoke French. I said, “Oui, Madame.” She said I was one of the triplets, either Yvonne, Marie, or Annette. Mom was so clear on her details, I figured she was remembering something that really happened, so I googled it. She meant the Dionne quintuplets, from French-speaking Montreal, born in 1934. (The other two were Cecile and Emilie.)
Most days, Mom is doing really well. However, last week, her much-younger sister died. Their baby brother died in his twenties. My mom is the sole survivor. I delayed telling her because we had planned a wonderful reunion with two cousins. I wanted her to be able to enjoy that, and she thoroughly did.
Now she’s dealing with another big loss, just a year after she lost her husband. Sadness is softened by the hope of heaven. My aunt’s death is a loss to me, too. I realize as my mom’s caregiver, I’ve focused so much on how she’s doing, how she’s handling the news, I’ve neglected how I’m doing. I haven’t taken time to really grieve.
Each little loss needs to be faced and mourned.
Isn’t that the way it goes with caregivers? Taking care of yourself–including leaning into your losses–is one of the biggest priorities caregivers need to fight for.