My mother called last month to wish me a belated birthday. Never mind that my birthday isn’t for another two weeks; just remembering the event is a victory.
“She gets exhausted trying to remember everything, then she’s even more anxious,” our part-time caregiver observes. It’s a vicious and all-too-common cycle repeated in the endless loop of dementia.
Mom’s recollections flit between past and present, phantoms of a past life. Clocks and calendars are a cacophony of confusion. My ever-shifting caregiver job description is riddled with uncertainty: I have become the keeper of memory, the guardian of time and space. As the Alzheimer’s memory bandits continue their relentless ransacking, we try to stay in the now, measuring moments in memories.
“I don’t remember the date of your birthday,” mom said, “but I love you! That I will never forget.”
After my stepmother’s stroke, my father became primary caregiver, coordinating doctor appointments, filling prescriptions, grocery shopping, and cooking meals.
He often experienced caregiver burnout. I visited as much as possible, in the midst of a demanding sales job.
My stepmother passed away two years ago, a bittersweet ending to their thirty years together. He was devastated over her loss. “I miss not having anyone to talk to,” he told me.
I spent months helping him navigate the complex web of death. Months stretched into years. Never have I spent so much time with my parents.
Yet I still see them through the lens of a child.
Soon, my father will eighty-five. I’m thankful for our increased time together; for his new friends; for the lessons in caregiving he unwittingly shared with me – a blueprint for my own caregiving journey.
June may be official Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, but for dementia caregivers, Alzheimer’s makes its presence known every hour, minute and second of the day. Alzheimer’s Awareness moments breathlessly rob our loved ones and ourselves of emotions and memories, of sanity and self.
Alzheimer’s, like time, knows no hour.
It impacts nearly everyone I know, with the sheer, blunt force of a torpedo. Just this week, I’ve added two new recipients to the list. An old hiking buddy whom I hadn’t seen in years is now conducting clinical research for Alzheimer’s. And a close friend, who lost his father to Alzheimer’s last year is struggling with his mother’s recent dementia diagnosis.
Life with Alzheimer’s is seconds and inches.
DID YOU KNOW: An estimated 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia, and that’s expected to reach 131.5 million in 2050