My father’s last years were difficult. Wheelchair-bound with an advanced case of Parkinson’s and his Alzheimer’s gaining in strength. There were angry outbursts, confusion, depression, withdrawal, hallucinations and fear.
I was not always the best caregiver. I didn’t always understand how—and if I am being completely honest, wasn’t always willing—to extend the compassion he needed and deserved. All too often I let the sadness of the disease or worse—old conflicts—get in the way.
But that was before my long apprenticeship with Mom. She opened my eyes and heart—allowing me to let go of my fear and embrace the person who is with me now instead of yearning for the person who used to be.
A few weeks ago, I thought it might be Mom’s turn. She was changing—increasingly disinterested, withdrawn and incoherent with flashes of belligerence.
And then a reprieve. At a recent care conference, perhaps lulled into complacency by mother’s consistently cheerful demeanor, we decided to forego the anti-depressant she had been taking for so long. Not a great idea as it turned out. We reversed course and within days she was back to her sunny self.
But thanks to Mom, I know now what I needed to know then.
I am ready—emotionally and strategically—to offer her what I had failed to give to Dad: acceptance, patience, a calming presence, touch and a willing resolve to be there as long as she needs me.
These are paintings by Mom’s neighbors who paint in the Elderwise art program at Seattle’s Horizon House.