Many people have told me how difficult they find it to visit friends and family who have Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“We have nothing to talk about. I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s so sad—she is everything she never wanted to be.”
“She would hate this so much. This was her worst nightmare.”
So the pattern begins…
Visiting makes you sad or uncomfortable, so you don’t visit.
Not visiting makes you feel guilty, so you put off visiting again. “She won’t remember it anyway,” you rationalize.
When you finally do visit, you are even more of a stranger and the visits more of an obligation and a relief (for you) when over.
And so it goes…
“Doesn’t seeing how your mother has changed make you sad?” I am asked. (I’m pretty sure tears are expected.)
“Not really,” I say quite honestly. I find mother to be utterly charming, quite funny and genuinely life-affirming.
But it took an adjustment. I had to learn to stop projecting my fears on Mom, stop thinking about how I would feel if I were in her shoes, how unhappy I would be.
But I’m not in her shoes and this isn’t about me. When I began to listen and let her set the pace, when I learned to appreciate the pleasures of real time, when I was able to see Mom for who she is and not who I wanted her to be, there was no sadness—only love—and gratitude that I have been lucky enough to share this stage of her life.
I see Mom’s life getting smaller and smaller—more and more content within the comfort of her small room filled with photos and pictures of her happy childhood, her life with Dad, the friendly faces of her doll and stuffed animals, the pleasure in the moment. Her life is far from empty.
But she is lonely. Her smile lights up when I arrive—ready to talk, take a walk, play the piano, sing, chat and tell everyone how beautiful they are—eager to be active.
Recently Mom and I were marching through the corridors of Assisted Living singing Onward Christian Soldiers. (Nearly 95 but the woman loves to march.) She unexpectedly announced that she was going to get married again. (She and Dad were very happily married for 66 years.)
“Really?” I said. “Who’s the lucky man?”
“Oh, the same one,” she laughed.