You know, as you do.
This week I dropped Mom off at her Wednesday afternoon respite. She was not pleased to be there. When we walked in the door, she looked around and flat-out said “No!” I knew I was in for trouble. I coaxed her further in, told her it was time to share her smile with others, and that The Other Girl would pick her up in two hours. The group coordinator, Lisa, had come over and was also encouraging Mom to come join the fun. Mom, by no means convinced but seeing herself outnumbered, gave a nice smile to her and an “Okay.” But as she passed by me she treated me to a venomous look and a low voice to drop this bomb…
“I hate you every day.”
I was understandably taken aback. I was somewhat saddened, but mostly embarrassed that while she meant that little gem for me only, it was still loud enough for Lisa to hear. I replied, “Thanks for that, Mom” and with a sympathetic smile from Lisa, left her there to fend for herself.
Now, occasionally, dementia can really PUNCH YOU in the face on this care partner journey, i.e. the first time Mom forgot my birthday, or my name, those were tough, tough, tough.
With dementia the faster you accept that there are worse things coming down the road, the easier it is to gun it over the little speed bumps and not let ’em ruin your day.
So, while I was deflated at having the Hated Every Day Award bestowed upon me, I wasn’t devastated. It’s not unusual for Mom to balk/panic at being somewhere without me or The Other Girl – we’re used to it – but as we’re better care givers when we can get some time away we accept the panic and move on. And usually when we pick her up from respite care she’s smiling and has had a good time. As this particular incident was a little more harsh than most, I mulled it over throughout the day, and what struck me was how this woman who can no longer remember how to dry dishes, use the bathroom, or participate in a conversation, pulled together enough mental acuity to calculate what she was going to say, and how she was going to say it so that her message landed with full impact. She formed a complete sentence and delivered it with a bang! That’s impressive. It makes me wonder is there something about brain activity when feeling hatred that offers more control? I know so many other caregivers have care partners that are combative; is that because in war they can access skill sets that are unavailable in peace? I’ll have to leave that for higher intellects than mine to figure out, but it did allow me to take an irritating episode and instead be rather dazzled by Mom’s accomplishment!
The Other Girl and I chuckled about it over a bottle of wine later that night. She laughed the loudest, of course, being the favorite. Maybe it will become our family’s new term of endearment? “I love you” has just gotten so passé. Regardless, this Mother’s Day I should definitely get t-shirts made for both of us…
Mom was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010. Dad vowed to keep his sweetheart at home and take care of her until the day she died, and my sister and I believed him because he’s that kind of man. As it turns out he’s also the kind of man to die of pancreatic cancer. Suddenly. With little time for us to do anything except promise him that we would take up the baton and continue the race as Mom’s full-time care partners.
It’s been two years of marathoning with Mom and her dementia. And while she’s busy forgetting most of what she knew, we’re learning a thing or two about the hilarity of accepting the unacceptable, about teamwork between two very different sisters, and about care giving tips and tricks. So, I vomit up all my care partner words in a fervent hope that it will strengthen my resolve and further my commitment to this exasperating, hilarious, heartbreaking, and gratifying journey, and to share and learn from others marching down the same road.