Archive for May, 2009

Nine tall teenagers surrounded the buffet table talking and laughing.  Across from me a young father fed plum-colored puree to his baby boy.  A toddler kicked and laughed in her mother’s arms.  A few steps away in the den, five or six young children played Monopoly with their grandfather, giggling wildly.  Several young adults were gathered in the living room having a friendly, but loud, discussion.  My sister stood behind the teenagers holding the coffee pot up for me to see, mouthing, “Want a refill?”  I shook my head and smiled at her.  And suddenly, there 2000 miles from home in the midst of a family celebration, I thought of a chapter in my book, The Caregiver’s Choice: ” Release Your Relatives.”

When our mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and I chose to be the main caregiver, my siblings and I did not always agree about the disease itself or the care to be given.  This smiling sister and I had often seen the situation from different points of view and had expressed our opinions strongly.  There had been tearful phone calls and many troubled discussions.  Though we had been raised by the same parents in the same house, we didn’t always even agree about what our mother would have wanted if she could have spoken for herself.  As we slowly sorted out the areas of care in which each sibling was able or wished to participate, I saw that it was important that I give up expectations of what sort of help I might get and vital that I not dictate “shoulds” to anyone.  Each person who faces the illness of a parent brings to the sick room, along with the love, all the fear, sorrow, regret and guilt gathered up over a lifetime.  Only that person knows what it is possible to give in times of crisis.

Patience is important.  Whichever person is able to see the situation most clearly must find information about the disease, investigate care plans, think–and talk–about the difficult subject of money, while at the same time helping other family members to catch up, to accept the sad truths about Alzheimers and come to some conclusions about their role in the caregiving.  But even while mired in this bog of pressing details and new emotions, it is absolutely vital to take a longer view.  Your mother is going to die.  What do you want after she is gone? 

On this subject I was grateful to discover that my sister and I were in absolute agreement.  We wanted an intact family.  I could see us backing away from our arguments when they got too intense and softening our tone of voice when we began to sound angry.  I was aware of each of us suggesting that we wait and talk later, that we consult other family members.  Each of us in our own way turned to our spiritual resources.  In the longer view, neither of us could bear the thought of a fractured family with some of the parts missing.  We were determined not to end up waging a lifetime family feud with half the family not speaking to the other half and constant negative energy bouncing through the generations down through the years.  We refused to dishonor our mother in such a way.

And so, there I was, in my sister’s happily crowded kitchen, helping to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary, delighted as her children came to hug Aunt Elaine and her grandchildren came shyly to my side to get to know this great-aunt from so far away.  I caught my sister’s eye once more and raised my coffee cup in a toast of gratitude.


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