Bobbi Junior talks about setting boundaries in relation to dementia. In this series of posts, Bobbi Junior brings her unique perspective to bear on the subjects of dementia, and Christian caregiving. Bobbi demonstrates that God is greater than dementia or any other crisis we may face. She shares how being a caregiver is a tiring, challenging and demanding task, and caregiver burnout is a constant threat.
I took the elevator up to Mom’s floor and as I was coming out, she and her neighbor from across the hall were at the door waiting to get on the elevator! Thank You Lord! After only a couple of weeks in the senior’s residence, Mom was pushing past her dementia and getting out of the apartment. Meeting people, too, it seemed. I rode back down with her and we found a couch by the fireplace in the lounge. There we sat, chatting, and commenting on the activity on the busy street outside the large windows.
It seems to me that Mom’s brain operates on two different tracks. On one, the fact that she’s having such difficulty learning how to function here is validation that she needs the extra supports provided in Assisted Living. But when her brain focuses on her desire to leave this place, she becomes angry and accusatory. Today her memory was taking her back to those plans she considered when her mind was still strong – the things she planned to do ‘when the time was right’. When Mom is on her own here, her mind seems to be going back to those alternate living situations, believing they’re still viable.
What she doesn’t remember is that we offered them, and she refused.
No Basement Living
Today she recalled a visit to our home last winter. Rick and I showed her our basement suite and asked if she’d like to come to live with us. She’d been appreciative, but adamant. “I could never live underground.”
Today, her decision had changed. “Your basement. It was nice. I think I could live there now,” she told me in a determined voice. I told her gently it really wasn’t an option anymore.
“If I was back in my house,” she countered after a few minutes, “we could hire someone to come and help me out. You know, they come and cook and do laundry. Then I could stay there.”
The home care plan, I thought. Another support we tried to put in place, that Mom cancelled.
I responded with a noncommittal “Mmm hmm.”
Next she reiterated her plan of Rick and I moving into her house with her. “You can live downstairs and I can live upstairs. We can share the bills. We should have a plan to follow if we have arguments. You could just go to your room if you got mad. Or I could go to my room. Then we’d be able to get along most of the time.”
“Mmmm,” I replied.
Moving Day Recollected
A pause as she located her next thought. Now she recalling the day we packed her things to move her here to Whyte Hall, and then found we couldn’t get in until the following day. Mom and Lawrence had to stay overnight at my house. “Why did you do that?” she berated. “That was really stupid. I did not want to stay there.”
I explained again how it happened. “Mom, the problems with moving you were out of our control. We just had to manage as best as we could. It wasn’t ideal, but everyone was warm and safe and had a bed to sleep in.”
She became quite aggressive at that point. “I understand all that, but I don’t know why I should have been punished for their mistake.”
I had to bite my tongue. We’d gone to a lot of effort on Mom’s behalf, and she was calling it punishment?
I took a very big breath.
“I’m sorry you felt you were being punished, Mom, but it was the best we could do on short notice. Everyone was just trying to make the best of a difficult situation.”
“When are we going to go to the bank?” She switched topics. “Why have they taken your accounts?”
“My accounts are fine, Mom.”
“Why are you lying about this. They’re taking your accounts. You go to the bank across the street and they have control of your money there!”
I was confused for a moment, but then the Lord gave me understanding. Suddenly I grasped that she was having trouble with pronouns. It had happened before, where she would say ‘you’, and when I responded in that context she got upset. If I responded as though her ‘you’ was ‘I’, it made sense in her mind. So it was her bank accounts she thought were being taken, not mine.
“I think you have a problem,” she carried on. “I think you need to get Rick to take you to the doctor to find out about it because it’s obvious you aren’t right in the head anymore. It’s not something to be afraid of,” she comforted me. “It happens to lots of people.” But then she became vehement again. “You having a problem with your brain doesn’t mean I should have to be part of it though. You need to take care of it yourself and leave me out of it,” she instructed.
Praying Under Attack
I wasn’t sure if she was talking about me or her anymore, but either way, absorbing her rancour was painful. As Mom carried on, I tried to separate my emotions from the condition and respond intellectually. I couldn’t though. Her attacks hurt. As the minutes wore on I felt like I was placing myself as a target for her abuse. Part of me knew this wasn’t her fault, but just as big a part wanted to strike back with my own harsh words.
Help, I cried silently.
Pray, I heard in my heart. You don’t need to listen and engage. Just pray.
I don’t need to listen? I don’t need to engage?
I’d never considered this tactic before, but why not? So as Mom carried on her with her convoluted attack, I tuned out her words and silently prayed: for her peace, for her to be blessed, for the Lord to draw her to himself.
I calmed quickly and smiled.
“Mom… Mom?” She paused. “I want to stay and visit,” I said, “but I don’t want to argue. If I’m going to stay awhile longer we need to talk about something else.”
“Talk about what?” she asked. “You and your brother are so deceitful. What kind of devious plans do you have now?” She was still trying to accuse me, but her energy had waned. I ignored her comment and asked if there had been any celebration for Remembrance day.
“Well yes. People came. They wore uniforms. My father had a uniform…”
And we chatted pleasantly until lunch was served. I saw Mom to her table, we hugged, and I made my way past the parade of walkers being driven into the dining room.
As I drove home, I had one more prayer that needed to be said.
Thank you, Jesus, for getting me through the rough moments so we could end our visit on a positive note. You’re such a good God. Amen
Bobbi’s program, “Not Me Lord” airs on HopeStreamRadio.
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Burning Old Memories – Gerla Brakkee
Remembering – Scott Moore