I was secondary caregiver to my mother whose Alzheimer’s disease was progressing more rapidly than any of us had expected, and certainly had hoped.
I was primary relief for my father who was shouldering the brunt of the daily exhaustion, frustration and heart-ache of living with a loved-one with Alzheimer’s.
I was living in the suburbs, trying to maintain an aging house and yard.
I was working hard to grow my business while also working part-time in a career path I had no interest in, but it paid some bills.
And I was trying to balance my own family life and all that entails on a daily basis.
I was stressed, I was tired – ok, exhausted.
Mostly I felt alone. My mom, the one I knew at least, my compass, my champion, my sounding board, my support, my friend had left me.
Flash-forward one year and all that has changed.
My mother seems content and is physically healthy in a nursing home surrounded by angels who attend to her daily and nightly needs; the stress and constant worry lifted from our weary shoulders.
Don’t get me wrong – we still worry – but we know she is safe and well cared-for. And what more can we ask for her, knowing that we could not provide the same level of care ourselves.
I have moved to the city and down-sized to an apartment. I don’t miss my house or my excess possessions. In fact, I am still donating things weekly, anxious to pare down to just the essentials (and a wee bit more – it is nice to have a few luxuries, but only if I have space to store them!)
I am walking to shops instead of driving everywhere.
I am living close to theatres and our world-renowned symphony and film festival planning evenings out instead of in being numbed by the television.
And I am gearing my business toward a path that I know will be fulfilling.
So here are the 5 lessons I’ve learned over this past year that you can use too:
1. Ask For Help.
Try as we might, we could not provide for my mother as we wanted to and especially as she needed. We called on in-home care until that option was exhausted. When the phone rang and my dad asked me to come over to help him, I ran, because I knew if he was asking, he was reaching a breaking point. (Asking for help is not something that comes easily in our family.)
Maybe my mom would still be in a nursing home, but not with the timing she and we required and I shudder to think of the many scenarios that could have unfolded if we had soldiered on, trying to manage by ourselves.
2. Accept Help.
Sounds obvious that if you ‘ask for help’ you naturally ‘accept help’, but they really are two separate things.
As hard as asking for help is – and if you are not used to asking, believe me, it is hard, very hard – sometimes accepting help is equally or more difficult, especially when it is offered unsolicited.
Often our friends, family and colleagues recognize well before we do that we are struggling and could use a hand.
When help is offered, step back and pause and try to stifle your pride.
Ignore the “I can do it”, “I’m fine” “I’m managing” voice that so many of us listen to.
Even if you only allow them to do something small or easy, it is one less thing for you to worry about. Then accepting help the next time it’s offered may be just a tiny bit easier for you.
There are some things that are simply out of our control. So surrender to them instead of fighting against them, wishing and hoping that things were different.
Accept that this is the way it is.
We could not stop, halt or reverse my mother’s disease progression no matter how much we wished we could. We had to surrender ourselves to the facts and do what was best for her, taking ourselves out of the equation.
We can only control our own actions so we acted in her best interests.
Surrender can bring grief. Let yourself grieve. You’ve been fighting the no-win battle.
Surrender. Release. Breathe. Accept. And move on from this new place.
It is from this place that I realize my sisters and I are providing the same for my mother that she for so many years provided for us. We are now her compass, her champion, her advocate, her support, her friends – and we’re good at it since we had the best teacher.
4. Look forward
Funny that ‘looking forward’ appears on a list of lessons learned by looking backward, but I learned that by looking forward and envisioning a different possibility for myself, my life is now following a new trajectory – one that feels supportive and right for me.
Living life through the rear-view mirror harbors regrets.
You look at opportunities passed-by. Forks in the road you could have traversed. I don’t want to live with regrets.
Looking forward allows for planning and intention. For me, those are two crucial components in achieving my goals.
And I know that the future means I will have to say goodbye to my mother once again. (I think having to say goodbye twice is the hardest part for the family of Alzheimer’s sufferers.) But until then, she is still a part of our lives and we love her just as much. Passing on is a fact of life for us all. I shall be grateful for the time we’ve had but continue to look forward to other happiness ahead – she would want that.
5. See how far you’ve come.
Contradictory to #4, looking backward can be extremely helpful IF you don’t live there.
Periodically turn around and see where you were six months ago, or a year ago, of five years ago.
Celebrate your achievements.
Recognize your champions – even drop them a card of thanks.
Be grateful for the help you accepted along the way.
Then turn around and set your course for the future.
Yes, a lot has changed for me over the past year but what has remained consistent is my positive outlook.
I have realized that positivity isn’t a character trait.
Positivity is a choice.
I choose to look on the bright-side.
I choose to find the good in people.
I choose to look forward more than back.
And when I do look back, I look for the lessons I’ve learned and the distance I’ve travelled.
Change brings momentum.
That is why I’m excited to announce that in the next day or two (technical challenges considered), the name of this blog will be changing.
I hope you come back to see where I’m taking it.
Because with you, the journey is much more fun.
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