Alzheimer's disease · Assisted living · Caregiver · Caregiving · Depression · Grief · Language

Blues / April 28, 2007

I didn’t want to let April go by without a word. I’ve started several posts over the past two months but have been unable to finish them. I knew that I would have a period of adjustment to my mother’s new living situation, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself depressed. When I was living with my mother I would imagine this time–when I could finally return to my house and have some time to myself–as being light. In some ways it is. Having the time to be alone is a good thing for me. But beneath the moments of solitude and the freedom from worrying about her safety is a lot of grief, I now realize.

To be honest, I’m having a very difficult time right now. I’m having a hard time motivating myself to do a number of things–to keep up this blog, to read, to clean the house. I wake up each morning anticipating a long day. Once I get dressed and out of the house, my mood picks up, but I am still struggling to concentrate at work, to organize my thoughts and plans. Little annoyances become vastly important and weigh me down. I’ve been here before–I know what this is. It’s been awhile since I felt this “down” and so I have to remind myself that what I resist doing–writing and reading and meditating–are the very acts that will make me feel better.

What I want to do is watch TV, eat, and sleep. I do knit, which is about the only thing I do that’s productive and calming. Wait–I also garden. Weeding has always been therapeutic, and God knows, I have quite a bit of THAT to do. But fifteen minutes outside, inspecting my neglected garden for signs of life, is worth an hour of therapy. I’ve lost some of my favorite plants, but the clematis and the tulips and the peonies are back, and there’s nothing like seeing them poking out of the dirt to remind me that not all is lost.

I know that this mood will pass. I believe that depression is NOT something that must be avoided at all costs, that I can learn from being thrown off my stride. It doesn’t always feel good, but what does? Times like this remind me of the heart/mind dynamic–the borderline we learn to straddle as we get older. I go over my mother’s situation time and time again–my intellect has “gotten” it but my heart still needs the chant. Whenever I start to feel sad that my mother must be in assisted living, I have to remind myself that it isn’t the assisted living that is the problem. It’s the Alzheimer’s, and I can’t control that. The assisted living has at least given her companionship, routine, challenge. Were she back at her house, she’d be sitting like a ragdoll on the couch, unable even to watch TV. Now she takes walks around the building and sits with her group of ladies. She has her well-being monitored day and night. She goes to exercise, and to Mass, and to socials. She has her hair done. I now visit three times a week–on Sundays we go out to lunch and for a ride. I need to repeat all this to myself on a weekly basis, because it’s so easy to fall back into the habit of shaking my fist at the gods.

My mother has had her ups and downs but I can sense her settling in. On Thursday I sat with her and one of her friends, who began to talk once again about going “home.” “Which one?” my mother asked. The woman pointed to her room. Home is a concept I haven’t yet been able to pin down. More and more I see it as the hope that they will still have control over their lives–that they will continue to be able to make crucial choices for themselves. I have no right to take that hope away from them.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m struck by how my mother sometimes wants to go home “next week”, or some other time in the future. She admits she doesn’t want to live alone and asks me if I will find someone to stay with her. I have no intention of doing this–if anyone stays with her it will be me–and yet I hate to mislead her, so I’ve often wandered down the wrong path of trying to reason with her. She can sense my ambivalence, which agitates her even more.

What I’m coming to realize is that, like most subjects, this one is more metaphorical than not. We aren’t really talking about her moving home, but about her independence. I’ve read so much about the anguish of “lying” to a loved one with Alzheimer’s, as if we are still able to communicate as directly as we did before the disease. Communicating with my mother has passed beyond the unequivocal exchange of words. I have to look for patterns, for contexts, for tone. How else can I respond to her repeated questions about her mother–why isn’t “Ma” coming to see her, does “Ma” know where she is, did I have a fight with “Ma”? I now say “Everything is fine,” which may or may not be a lie. And when she asks me to look for someone to stay with her, I say “I’ll see what I can do,” which also may or may not be a lie. I think at this point it’s not the words that count, but the fact that she has someone to whom she can try to express what might be beyond words, over and over again. I can be there to absorb some of the anxiety, to reassure her, rather than trying to take a literal measure of reality. Like so much of life, this is not a situation that can be solved with one or two conversations, but will need to be repeated again and again, like a ritual.

I’ll end on a positive note. The photo at the beginning of this post is my newest love, Jasper, the 4-month old Sheltie who has entered Lily’s and my life. I’ve had him for about a month. We are going to “puppy kindergarten” (where the other puppies are twice his size–but he is twice as fast and not afraid of them in the least). We also visit my mother weekly, where Jasper is a great favorite with the staff and residents of Garden Manor. He loves my 14-year-old collie Lily–he snuggles with her all the time. I was a little in shock for the first week–I’d forgotten how peppy puppies are–but it took him no time to settle in. He’s affectionate and talkative and very busy. It’s nice to find myself at the beginning of something.

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