We returned from Florida at 12:54 a.m. Sunday. My husband and I seem to have a genius for getting home around 1:00 a.m., and I need to wind down for at least an hour; I never fall asleep until 2:00 or 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning found me exhausted, and though my husband was up in time for church, I was too tired to go. At about 9:25, my husband called and said, “You’re down for the children’s story!” which I had forgotten; it was not on my calendar. If my computer is not readily at hand to add an event to my calendar, the chances of me remembering when away from home are slim-to-none. Argh! “I can’t get there in time. Could you do it?” My dear husband, who has done lots of public speaking and by the way is a retired pastor, agreed to do it. I felt bad about this Dereliction of Duty, and braced myself for my husband to be angry with me when he got home. But…in a Grace-Full way, he was not upset. I did apologize again, and thanked him for his graciousness. What a sweetheart.
After we had lunch, I headed out to Bickford to see my parents, and found my mother sitting in her chair. I noticed immediately that the room smelled better than it had in a long time, that the absorbent pad was on her chair, and that her hair was clean. Apparently, my speaking up for Mom before I left for Florida had some effect, for which I am grateful. Mom looked at me and said, “What happened?” Hm. I told her I’d been in Florida, and was back, which revelation fell flat–she was not as excited or displaying joy upon seeing me as in the past, so perhaps it was as if I’d never been gone. For her sake, I was glad, though my ego took a little beating; I’m embarrassed to say that being greeted like the returning hero HAS felt good, tinged though that feeling has been with guilt at being gone. I find I am better able to be gone without suffering anxiety, guilt and grief when I travel. I called Mom a few times when we were gone, but didn’t feel bad if I forgot or simply decided not to.
So does my more relaxed attitude about absence mean I should encourage another person–caring for a parent or spouse with dementia–to just forget worrying about such anxieties as mine? I don’t think so. To ask someone who is struggling like I did three years ago is to suggest that his/her love and grief means little and that the meaning of the loved one’s life is of little importance. In fact, I hope I would validate the person’s feelings, grieving for what has been lost via dementia. I might add that I grieved for a long time–until about now?–and that the three years were important in understanding that I cannot change nor fully ameliorate my mother’s–and to some extent, my father’s–condition. Three-plus years after Mom moved into Bickford, six years from the time I was convinced that she was failing, I am more accepting of the way things are for her. I had the room to grieve with friends and family until I arrived at a more serene state of mind about my parents age and mental condition. It was in my own time, and I hope others walking this path are given such a gift of well. Perhaps it will be from you.