Jun 10, 2011

Keeping The Love Alive: Who Loves You, Baby?

I've been following the conversation about "to place or not to place." I'm not advising anyone what to do. The decision to place my mom in a memory care unit was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

By Sheryl Lynn
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The nurse, the activities director, and the marketing director from my mom's facility attended her funeral.

The nurse and I had mixed it up on more than one occasion. She understood traditional medicine. I understood alternative therapies. She wanted to medicate. I wanted to find other ways whenever possible. We didn't always enjoy a harmonious relationship, but I know she understood what my mother and I were experiencing because her own mother is living in a memory care unit.

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She cared enough about my mom to fight me on my choices when her osteoarthritis got worse; my refusing to do things her way made me go back to researching and eventually finding a natural way to manage her pain. She became a beautiful ally to both of us at the end of my mother's life. She made a point of hugging me hello and goodbye during my mom's last days and made sure I was given food during the long hours I was at her bedside. I didn't expect to see her at the services, and it touched my heart that she made the time to attend.

The activities director and I had also mixed it up on more than one occasion. She wasn't familiar with the Jewish calendar and once scheduled a party on the holiest night of the year, not understanding that Jewish holidays begin at sundown the night before. Between the heavily amped country-western singer and the chatty staff, my mom and I couldn't find a quiet place to pray together. She still doesn't fully understand that what she did was very wrong, but she now knows how to read a Jewish calendar and will do her best to never again unknowingly disrespect another's traditions.

The activities director loved my mom. She called her "little woman." She takes each resident into her own heart. I remember her leaving her hospital bed early after surgery to attend the funeral of one of the residents. Even though she and I didn't end on the best of terms, I honor her connection with my mother. It was real.

The marketing director wasn't the marketing director who'd admitted my mom. The previous marketing director and I had developed a great relationship. She was the one who made it possible for me to do my radio show during World Alzheimer's Month from the facility. The corporation that operates the facility had rules about doing stuff like that. She and the director made it happen, rules or no rules. The director, the nurse, the marketing director, and the activities director all participated in the show, and I'm proud to have had such important content presented.

The previous marketing director eventually went back to college to become a researcher. She'd had enough of witnessing the slow decline of her residents and decided it was her dharma to make a difference. She is committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer's. This marketing director was new to the job. She didn't know my mom or me well, but she wanted to attend the funeral.

I've been following the conversation about "to place or not to place." I'm not advising anyone what to do. The decision to place my mom in a memory care unit was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. For those of you considering placement, I feel for you. It's an almost impossible place to be: wanting to care for your loved one but knowing that your best just isn't good enough any more.

I did the best I could do with the situation I was in. The memory care unit did the best they could do as well. Were there things I wish hadn't happened during her time there? You bet. Were there things I wish I'd have done better? Absolutely. Did my mom get consistent and compassionate care during the last 21 months of her life? Yes.

I hope reading this helps at least one reader, maybe more, understand that there is a lot of love in the world. We aren't the only ones capable of loving our loved ones with dementia. Strangers may not love them with the same love we feel, strangers may not know everything about them we know, but strangers can still connect with them on the level of the heart and make a positive difference in their lives and in the lives of their families.

Who loves you, baby?

Sheryl Lynn is the author of the upcoming book "The Light Is A Thank You," which chronicles the spiritual journey through dementia she has taken with her mother, Eleanor. She is the host of "Glow With The Flow Radio Show," currently on hiatus.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems   The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room