The Christmas-y pillow with a snowman looked vaguely familiar as I picked it up from the sofa in the community room. Then I saw the name fixed securely in the corner with laundry tape: Amanda Stauffer. My mother’s name. She passed away at this facility about three years ago fighting Alzheimer’s that robbed her of memory and then finally, of earthly life. We had donated some of her things and apparently this pillow had been stashed away with the holiday decorations.
Working among dementia sufferers this past year, I have seen my mother reflected in the residents’ words and behavior. I remembered my mom chatting away with nonsensical grammar and words and even some Pennsylvania Dutch words that left the listener confused and a bit amused. And yet she could sing old hymns verbatim from memory. She also could get angry and frustrated, striking out at staff and residents. She also the habit of stuffing all kinds of items in her pockets or down her pants which made for some interesting stories for nurses to share among themselves.
Spending time in this secure unit, I took note of the visitors who came to see their loved ones. Some came regularly. Some only came at holidays or not at all.
And it would hit me… a few years ago I WAS that visitor who rarely came. The daughter of Amanda. And when I did come, I would appear often for a short time and then disappear for a very long time.
The daughter who didn’t visit.
The regular staff would know I was the daughter who lived overseas. But others wouldn’t know that. Other staff and visitors wouldn’t know that. My brother and sister-in-law visited and took care of the legal and paper work and meetings, but I didn’t come.
Did I feel guilty? Do I feel guilty, now? I suppose I do, at times.
Yet every step and decision along the way concerning the care of our mother, I saw God’s provision.
We knew our mother was having some cognitive problems some years ago, but we didn’t know how severe and we didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s, even though we had elderly relatives who had it. However, in 2009, when I was back in the USA, my brother and I knew something had to be done. I am grateful for a God of mercy who provided a place for our mother and adequate finances.
I returned overseas, while taking yearly trips back to see her. Initially I was able to connect with her through weekly phone calls, but eventually she was no longer able to communicate that way.
In God’s plan, I returned to the states in the summer of 2014 after 30 plus years in overseas work. And in God’s plan for my mother’s life on earth, I was able to see her regularly before she died. I was even able to be with her as she drew her last breath.
Many times I have reflected upon the decision to have our mother in a facility rather than take care of her myself. What is the right daughter thing to do? Has the Asian value of filial piety become a part of my own values? Everyone may have a different answer to that and each one must search God’s heart and plan in the matter. We are commanded to respect our parents and take care of them.
But in all honesty, I really believe that my mother would not have wanted me to stay. She was always supportive of me and what I did, even though I can’t say we had a real close relationship. In fact, I could see her getting quite upset with any suggestion that she could not take care of herself. Even as Alzheimer’s continued to kill her brain cells and unharness her repressed emotions, I can envision my mom’s eyes flashing, fists clenching and maybe with a hint of smile, insisting she doesn’t need me to help her out!
I know many people become caregivers because of financial reasons and they have no choice, and God is with them in that decision. And I do have regrets and wish I would have had more time with her. I would have also done some things differently. That is true, and that is life. But I know some day I will see her again and she’ll be whole. And we’ll have eternity to spend together in heaven with Jesus.
No regrets, no guilt… no Alzheimer’s.
Do you have a parent, a loved one dealing with Alzheimer’s? How do you handle it?