Life Lessons Learned and Dementia

Recently, I have been spending a great deal of time with my Mom, who is now in a nursing home in Vermont.  She fell the week before Christmas and broke her hip and now has Dementia.  She turned 90 years old in June, and she was showing signs, but either they were slight or perhaps I was just in denial.

on Mom's 90th Birthday, Ashley, Brayden, my mom, Logan, RJ and Sarah
Since her fall, surgery, hospital stay and being placed first in rehabilitation and now a nursing home, I have been living in Vermont these months.

Daily I would walk the hall towards her room and pass numerous residents with varying levels of Dementia.  There were those who could barely keep themselves sitting upright in their wheelchairs. Other residents who could use a walker, but seemed lost anyway by the expression in their face. Some residents had no words, just a desperate look in their eyes.

I am back home for a few weeks to tend to family things.  Today I was slighted by a young girl, who often reacts to me  in an unkind way in front of others.  Unfortunately, she is part of the family so I cannot avoid her at family gatherings.  Yet it puzzles me why someone would enjoy being so hurtful.  Years ago this would not happen because back in my day a 20 something girl would never dream of making someone 68 years old feel uncomfortable.

first time meeting Logan
I thought about how all these months I purposely would never make my Mom feel slighted.  When she uses a wrong word, or tells a strange story, or often thinks she has moved again, I try to console her.  I bought her a pink princess phone.

at Sarah and Mike's wedding
When we talk and she feels that she has been moved, I remind her if she is talking on the pink phone she is in the right room.

It made me think of how differently that young girl who makes me uncomfortable, might think of acting, if she knew how she or a loved one might end up with Dementia someday.

at Ashley's baby shower
Actually all of us should spend more time being mindful, thoughtful, and thankful.  If we knew that we might lose our gifts someday I believe we would be thankful for every precious moment we are able to think, write, dress ourselves, live alone, walk, drive and the list goes on.

for 18 years while living at her residence she organized food donations for the local food shelf at Christmas
I thought about what a gift this painful experience has been watching my Mom, who was so independent walk into the path of Dementia.  A bittersweet gift because it has reminded me of her  adventures and what a wonderful life she has had.  A gift because for the rest of my life, I will cherish every moment of everyday being thankful for the things I once took for granted.

at Sarah's bridal shower me, my sister, Susan, my mom and my sister, Lynne
My mother always started everyday with a prayer to God.  "Thank you God for my strong body and my strong mind"  God responded by giving her 90 years of good health and wonderful experiences.

At 68, I know my life too has been filled with amazing adventures.  We never know who will be affected by Dementia someday.

recently at the nursing home, my mom can no longer dress herself bath, or walk with a walker
So, I want to hold onto all the good thoughts everyday.  I want to be thankful and appreciate the little things.
I want to work on not being offended by foolish people, instead fill my life with as many positive people that I can.  Enjoy my husband, wonderful daughters, son-in-law and grandchildren, sisters and closest friend, Joyce.

Terra Hangen said...

I am about your age and agree that young people do best when they treat oldsters with kindness. I volunteer at a retirement home / memory care place and see those bewildered looks. The lady I visit is doing great and we shelve the place's library books together.

Teresa O said...

I wish the powerful message you share would be taken to heart by every person on the face of this earth. What a change this world would see. Thank you for sharing your beautiful post.

Beverly said...

Karen, I sent you a long message via Facebook. Sending love from me to you.

Vee said...

What a beautiful post chronicling the "I have been young and am now old" story of life. I am sorry that your young family member is so foolish. I once had an encounter with a young family member who decided to make me the brunt of her biting jokes and sarcasm. When we were alone, I let her know in the most kind and FIRM way possible that I had zero intention of allowing her to continue in that vein. She stopped. I love her dearly and feel that she and I would not be friends much less relatives if I had allowed it to go on. I hope that she uses my guidelines with others. They will serve her well.

Your mom is such a sweetheart. She has a beautiful family and lovely daughters who care so very much about her quality of life. The pink princess phone was a stroke of genius!

Celestina Marie said...

Dear Karen, I read your post twice and lingered over every photo. How I would like to reach out and give you a big hug of friendship and love. I have been right in the place you are now with your mother. I know it is a heartache that has no comfort except from God who gives us peace on this journey.
When my mother was in the nursing home, after I could no longer care for her, I cried inside each and everyday I visited. To see all those folks in a state of pleasant confusion or total irritation was beyond heartbreaking.
I'm sorry to read you have someone (a young person) being disrespectful to you. I guess all one can do in these situations is pray for their maturity to grow into a better place with their fellow man. We have to let God take over!

Sending you best wishes of comfort and prayers that your way will be eased by God's grace with each visit to your mother. Some of my best moments were spent with my mother in those days in the nursing home. There is something great to be learned.
Lovely post Karen and I enjoyed the photos so much.

Take care and blessings to you dear one.
Thoughts and prayers, xoxo

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I'm so sorry to hear this news about your mother, Karen. It's sad to see someone you love fade away like this, but it really is also a gift, as you can say goodbye and treasure these last moments with her.

My mother-in-law had dementia for nine years and was basically non verbal at the end and everything had to be done for her. We opted not to give her a feeding tube, as she might have to be restrained so she would not pull it out, so someone from our family had to go almost every day to the nursing home to make sure she would eat at least one meal--it took a very long time to feed her and we knew the staff would not be able to spend all that time with one person. She passed away peacefully.

Take good care of yourself, too. Give yourself days of rest and joy. (((hugs)))

Susan Messier said...

Hi Karen,

Thank you for writing this very important post with gorgeous photos. Mommy has had an interesting, diversified life and she lived it to her fullest! She always tried to make lemonade out of lemons and took the high road when faced with most challenges. It's bittersweet that she has gotten to this place in her life, but I do believe that she feels loved by her family. Most importantly, she had a relationship with Jesus. Thank God for his blessings.

Love, Susan

Anonymous said...

It is a gift indeed, my friend. Pain is gain. My dad's battle with the beast (what I call Alzheimer's) changed me forever. Started in mid 50's (yes, 50's) 'til he went home to the Lord at the age of 70, January 27, 2004. He was a Red Sox fan, passed that passion down to me and I share it with my children. The year he went home, the Red Sox won the World Series and I like to think my dad had something to do with breaking the curse of the Bambino. ;)
I watched my mom take care of my dad at home day and night throughout this battle. I've never seen such love, not before, not since. Years later I volunteered for Alzheimer's Association sharing encouragement with caregivers, walked many nursing homes and saw what you describe many times, always with tears in my eyes and profound compassion in my heart. Coworkers could not understand why I felt so much for strangers. I don't think anyone could ever understand anything they haven't experienced, not at the same level. I repeat, PAIN IS GAIN.
You've gained much through this already, pour some on that very girl crying out for kindness. My mother-in-law shared something with me many years ago and it has echoed in my ear so many times as a parent. The old understand the young, not the other way around. (((Hugs)))
My page is BRIGHTER by your visit, kindred spirit. <3 KEEP CREATING!!

Anonymous said...

PS A pink princess very perfect. <3 <3 <3

Kathleen Grace said...

Oh the things we realize as we get older. Sometimes when I get crabby about the way people in their 20's act, I realize I was pretty cocky at that age too! Conversely, as I age, I also look at the older generation and find myself more understanding of how slowly they cross the street, their confusion and infirmities. I can only hope that people understand that if those things affect me when I'm older it is something I cannot help. It sure puts things in perspective to put ourselves in others shoes doesn't it? Especially as we get older! My heart goes out to you and your lovely mama. No matter what happens, she is blessed to have your love and understanding to the end. I will add you both to my prayers.

Dewena said...

As my mother is also in a nursing home at age 92 for the same reason, I read this realizing that they must have lived through so many of the same moments in time. They are of a generation I admire so much. Nothing about the portrait you've painted here of your mother surprises me because extraordinary women of their age lived and raised their families and contributed. And were just pure elegance while doing it. Your pink princess phone reminds me of the many amazing things my two sisters have done for my mother for 5 years now as she's been in nursing care. They do it with simple love but it is a priceless gift.

God bless our mothers as they wait in his gentle hands,