We were standing just outside the change rooms at Walmart, where my Mom had been trying on brassieres. Nothing fit or felt right to her, and we had been at it for hours, with me running back and forth for different models and sizes. She needed me in the small stall with her, she was having trouble with the straps and boxes. We were both hot, tired and frustrated. I looked at my watch and said, “Do any of these fit? We really should leave. Dad’s been alone for a while now.”
Silence. Then a sniffle. Mom was crying. Head down, fumbling in her purse for a tissue. I was taken aback.
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
“Nothing. Take me home.”
Her tone was rigid, as was her face, and she started walking in her slow gait towards the exit, tears streaming down her cheeks. I followed slowly, my face flooding with hot shame. I had made my mother cry. In public. Something she had never done before. I was a monster.
In the privacy of the car, I looked at her and asked her what I had done or said wrong. “Oh, it’s all about your father, isn’t it? You’re always rushing me, and I never have time to think. Why offer to take me shopping if you’re just going to snap at me?”
It was one of those days during the first few months of caregiving when I went home, put my head in my hands, and sobbed openly. I couldn’t believe that I had been so insensitive, so impatient, so obviously lacking in compassion. Was I ever going to learn?
I couldn’t eat my supper that night, I was so upset. I waited until I knew my parents had eaten, and then picked up the phone and called. “Just checking in,” I said to Mom, “and to see if you’re feeling better.”
“Better?” she said, in a worried tone, “Was I not feeling good before?”
She had already forgotten the incident.
I distracted her quickly and we had a nice conversation that ended with me telling her I loved her, and her telling me how much she appreciated the call. I hung up, relieved that she was not still upset, but angry at myself for letting it happen in the first place.
Some lessons are hard-learned.
This one was and is a difficult one for me. No one has ever accused me of being too relaxed, although I can certainly be lazy. I am an impatient, highly efficient person who takes pleasure in doing things quickly. I genuinely thought my multitasking superpowers, honed in business, would come in handy when it came to caring for two parents in need. Never before has my “need for speed” put me at a disadvantage, but in a caregiving role? It’s the worst thing ever.
People with dementia and Alzheimer’s are functioning the best they can, struggling with fear all the time, and processing sensory information at a much slower pace than the rest of us. According to my mother, it feels as if everyone is walking and talking in fast motion, buzzing around like pesky flies. They need us to slow down around them, relax, be in the present moment, and let them set the pace.
I’m learning to relax. I’m learning to say to myself – What’s the rush? If it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow. Is it that important? Is it worth the stress? The answer is always no – nothing is that important. Appointments can wait. Most decisions can wait. The driver behind us can wait. Dinner can wait. Friends can wait. Let them all wait! Time with my parents is more important, because time is all we have at this point.
That’s worth remembering, when all the bad feelings are (hopefully) forgiven and forgotten.
“Reality in Alzheimer’s World is a reflection of what the person living with Alzheimer’s thinks and believes. It is this reality that you must focus on, not the way YOU think things are, or should be.”
– Bob DeMarco, Alzheimer’s Reading Room