Not Guilty!

I’m at the grocery store, navigating through the chaos of an afternoon before Mother’s Day: more floral arrangements than a funeral home, enough pink balloons to supply a dozen nine-year-olds’ birthday parties, greeting card racks laden with glittery sentiment, chocolate-covered strawberry display that engulfs half the produce aisle. Men and women surround me, their shopping carts loaded with sacrificial offerings to place upon the altars of the women who brought them into this world.

My own offering is modest. A small yellow orchid, beribboned in pink, to pin to her blouse. Two cookies, pink and blue icing stating “I Love you, Mom” and “Happy Mother’s Day.” A card for her collection, one of the few things she’s managed not to lose or throw out.

I will not feel guilty that I did not get her more. Last year, the rose bouquet was overturned not long after I presented it, glass shards to clean up, flowers forgotten moments later.

I will not feel guilty that I choose to take her to the special brunch in the dining room of her memory care community. Last year, the silverware at her favorite restaurant became frightening, napkins mistaken for toast.

I will not feel guilty that she lives in a memory care community. I took care of her with love and compassion for the three years I was her sole caregiver.

I will not feel guilty because I do not visit her every day. Every time I visit, our time together is special.

And I will not feel guilty because she’s already forgotten the memories from moments ago, last week, my childhood.

I am a mother to my mother and I love her unconditionally. For us, every day is Mother’s Day. 

The Red Shirt

#3 in a Series on Purpose

“Is today the day I wear the Red Shirt?” Mom asks, as she does nearly every time I visit.

I don’t mind this question. Or the other millions of questions that repeat like a cassette stuck in an endless loop. After living in Alzheimer’s World for five years, the passage of time no longer matters.

What matters is the Red Shirt.

Earlier this year, we launched Yappy Care, a new program at the animal rescue where I volunteer. Twice a month, we bring a shelter dog to visit the residents at mom’s memory care home. As team captain, mom walks the dog down hallways and patios, stopping to socialize with her friends.

And she wears the Red Shirt, the official uniform of a shelter volunteer.

The Red Shirt reminds her that she has a purpose. Helping others has been a guiding principle in both our lives, a code she instilled in me at an early age. And, it reminds me that even as dementia slowly strips her soul bare, she is still capable of living a meaningful life.

As Bob DeMarco so eloquently reminds us in his Alzheimer’s Reading Room blog:

“Success is what happens to you. Purpose is what happens through you. Meaningfulness is what you give away to others.”

The Meaning of Life

#2 in a Series on Purpose

Purpose: the essential ingredient for a meaningful life. For years, it’s seemed out of reach.

In a sales career spanning a quarter-century, my purpose was straightforward yet unfulfilling: make your numbers, get your bonus. My wallet was full but I struggled with an empty soul.

Life changed radically when I left that job to become my mother’s full-time caregiver five years ago. I spent much of that time wallowing in martyrdom and resentment, my purpose unfathomable.

But purpose, like life, evolves with clarity. And as I’ve learned in sobriety, helping others is a reward in itself. So I launch a support group for daughters caring for aging parents. Channel a long-time passion for writing into a flash blog and caregiving articles. Transform my love of animals into enrichment programs at a local shelter and a petsitting business. And continue to support my husband as he deals with the sudden loss of his only child.

Age grants us wrinkles and wisdom and this I now know: purpose is found when you least seek it.