"Please! Can't you help me? Get me out of here!" my mom pleaded as she tugged on the railing of the rented hospital bed. And then she pointed, hand trembling, at the crimson red cardinal on a bird feeder just beyond her bedroom window. "I wish I could fly away..." she said longingly. All day long, she begged me to rescue her. From time to time, I had to leave the room because it was too much to bear.
It had taken years, but we had finally arrived at this place. My mom's physical body had totally betrayed her. She was bed bound, trapped and imprisoned by the end result of an inopportune series of debilitating health issues, including surgeries for colon and breast cancer. Her memory had faded almost completely.
At the time, I felt I was failing her because all I could do was be present, sitting on a chair drawn close to her bedside. My own coping and caregiving resources were hanging by a thread. Sheer exhaustion prevented me from being as fully engaged in her profoundly disturbing emotional struggle as I would like to have been. What do you say to a loved one who has finally reached her final days, but is unable to grasp what that means? Whatever words of comfort, whatever words of explanation, it didn't matter. They were quickly forgotten a few minutes later.
|Lots of great grandchildren sugar|
She always forgot what her colostomy bag was for, then thought it was hilarious when I explained once again what was in there. Speed car racing events were among her favorite TV programs . Sometimes she watered her artificial flowers. When I reminded her they really don't need water, she thought that was funny too. Oh, and then there was the daily morning ritual helping her get dressed. I'd get her all fixed up, everything matching and colorful, come back an hour later to find she had changed clothes. I continually tried to hide one particularly frayed and snagged old grey sweater that I didn't have the heart to throw away, but she always mysteriously managed to dig it out and put it on. (Yes, she had her own ugly sweater....) Most of the time, it didn't matter. But when we were expecting company, I know guests had to be wondering why I didn't buy her some decent outfits.
|Mom lookin' snazzy|
Because dealing with dementia means living "in the moment" with the one afflicted, often I would forget the able-bodied and sound-minded individual that was my mom. It was too easily overshadowed by the intense caregiving she required as she approached a great old age. Had she been able to verbalize it, she would have wanted me and everyone else to be mindful of all that she had been and accomplished, now unrecognizable behind the façade of infirmity, wrinkles and failing memory.
The next time you look into the limpid eyes of an elderly, worn-out human being who may feel old and in the way, try to see beyond the frail exterior and search for the essence of the exuberance of youth and beauty, good times, love, values, experience, hopes and dreams, including the heartaches and scars of living that shaped that unique person. It's still there underneath it all. Even if someone has become debilitated or suffers diminished memory, you may find yourself surprised by their response to the depth of your perception.
|Mom and her girl...me|
Mom suddenly fell into a coma-like state. We lost the ability to reach each other. And then she was gone, her God-given purpose in life on this earth fulfilled. I hate to admit it, but it took me a very long time to finally throw away her favorite frayed and faded ugly grey sweater.
|The sunset of life can be beautiful....|