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.
Read Part 5 here.
Learning With Dementia Is An Oxymoron
Mom and I had just navigated a shopping trip to the drugstore, conveniently located next to her new Senior’s Residence. It hadn’t gone smoothly, but she had managed to purchase items on her own, giving us both a sense that she might once again be able to feel independent, regardless of her dementia and the fact that living in this new place required a very steep learning curve. Learning with dementia is an oxymoron, if ever there was one. Nonetheless, Mom and I both knew learning would have to happen.
Having spent several hours with her on this particular day, I was exhausted. When you’re with someone with dementia who is determined to get things done, there’s no opportunity to relax, shoot the breeze, enjoy just being together. Mom was working to figure out how to do things, and she expected me to help her navigate the process, but at the same time, resented her need for my help. I was working just as hard, figuring out how what she was trying to communicate to me, what she needed from me, and how best to support her.
Yes, we were both exhausted.
The desire to escape rose in my gut, but I pushed it aside and sat down at her table, determined to keep Mom company as long as she seemed to need it. I felt like I was laying myself on an altar, giving her free reign to attack me verbally at the slightest offence.
A Prayer For Help
Lord Jesus, I prayed. I need your help. Again! Unexpectedly, a conversation from some months ago flooded my memory. Mom had given me a strong admonition. “We have to not take things personally,” she’d told me. “People have to get angry. But you shouldn’t take it personally. You should just let people get angry.”
Her wording may have been a bit confused due to the dementia, but the message was clear. Mom was asking me not to feel her anger was a personal attack. She was, in fact, apologizing in advance for any outbursts that might occur.
Thank you, Lord, I thought to myself, realizing he had answered my prayer for help. Hanging on to that thought, I braced myself with the best neutral expression I could muster, and we were off to the races.
“You just keep helping and helping,” Mom blustered with disdain. “You’re helping too much. You should write everything down so I can do things myself. How am I supposed to learn if you keep doing it for me?”
“Good point, Mom. That makes a lot of sense.” I found a notepad and pen on her table. “What would you like to learn?”
Its A Microwave
She gazed around the apartment until her eyes settled on a large black box on a shelf in her tiny kitchenette. “What’s that thing again?”
“It’s a microwave. You’ve never used one, have you?”
“Microwave.” She nodded in concentration. “Your brother used that to heat up water for a cup of tea. How hard can it be?”
I’d never written instructions for using a microwave before, but then, there’s a first for everything. Slowly I thought through all the steps required to heat something. On the notepad, I broke down the steps as much as I could.
- Put mug of water in and close the door.
- Push “Quick Minute” button twice for two minutes.
- Push “Start”.
- Wait until it dings and turns off.
- Push the “Open” button to release the door.
- Take out your mug of hot water.
I found a roll of masking tape and stuck the instructions on the wall beside the microwave. Mom read them through, her eyes moving between the numbered list and the control panel.
She put some water in a mug, then stared at the instructions again. I held back, her chastisement of helping too much still ringing in my ears. After a couple of false starts, she humphed, “Well, can’t you help at all?”
Slowly I talked her through putting a mug of water in and heating it for the two minutes I hoped would be enough to steep a tea bag. I didn’t have much hope that she’d use the machine, but I’d done my best.
A Washing Machine
The tension seemed to have drained away, now, and we were working as a team again. Next we took some clothes to the laundry room down the hall and put them in the washing machine. Mom watched me turn it on and thought she could manage that. We returned to the apartment. This time she used the key successfully. Back at the kitchen table, we regrouped once more.
“I need to use the bathroom,” she said. Rising, she passed behind me and began to make her way to the hall door.
“Mom, the bathroom’s over here, this door behind me.”
That was the last straw.
In a fury she blasted me. “Would you just stop it? You keep helping and helping! How am I to learn anything if you keep telling me what to do!” She paused and seemed to mentally take hold of herself. “Just let me find it myself,” she said in a tense but controlled voice.
Mom found and used the washroom and I breathed deeply.
Next she wanted to know why her radio wouldn’t work in this place. I found an outlet and plugged it in, turning it to her all-talk station.
“Thank you,” she said, somewhat petulantly. “I didn’t know what was wrong with it. I should have figured that out myself.”
Her tone shifted now to accusation. “I really don’t know how you and your brother decided you had the right to just up and move me into this place without even asking me. Who do you think you are, anyway…”
Mom had reached her limit, and I knew I had as well. I rose and said as politely as I could, “I’ve got to go now, Mom.” I wrote a note to leave on her table saying what time she should go down for her meals.
“And what if I don’t go down?” she demanded.
“That’s fine, Mom. It’s your choice.”
“That’s what you think now. But they’ll be here. They’ll make me. We have no choice anymore!”
I hugged her and left.
When I got home, I immediately opened my journal, detailing the events of the day, finishing with these thoughts.
Lord Jesus, I’m so thankful you’ve shown me I can write all this out. I have sufficiently vented, eaten a bit of ice cream, and now I shall take my little dog for a walk. I wonder if Mom will remember she has clothes in the communal washer? Thanks for listening, Jesus. I needed to process a bit. Now I’ll focus on pleasant things, and spend my walk going over all the wonderful things you’ve done and are doing. I’m so glad I know Mom’s not alone there, and that both you and the staff are watchi
Bobbi’s program, “Not Me Lord” airs on HopeStreamRadio.
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Mug In Microwave – Dave Kennard
Radio – Leo Cinezi