Nothing could have prepared us for what we were experiencing. My mom, was swinging at the air, yelling, “Get away from me!” completely unaware of me or my dad’s presence. My dad and I looked at each other in horror. At no time in my life, not as a little girl or as a grown woman, had I ever seen my dad look so scared. Somehow, in that moment, I instinctively knew that my mom could no longer carry me. This woman, who had served as our family’s rolodex, calendar, and personal assistant in every way you could imagine, now needed our assistance. My dad, taking the lead as a husband and a father, gently told my mom that she was okay. My mom, the perpetual southern belle, defiantly yelled at him with all of the conviction in the world, “You don’t see them? Somebody take me inside!” My dad seemed to crumble inside, he looked at me helplessly. I looked at my mom and said, “Mom, you are inside honey. Nobody or nothing will get you.” Whatever it was that triggered that occurrence seemed to dissipate because my mom said, “Oh,” and calmly laid back down on her hospital bed.
Life, as our family had known it had changed. We’d always managed to dodge bullets. Illnesses that had taken others out, we had beaten by the grace of God. Diabetes…beat it. Stroke…beat it. Cancer…beat it…and then came dementia. This illness creeps up on you and by the time you realize that it’s attacking your loved one, you’re already knee deep in it.
I’ve spent my career helping people– whether it’s through their personal lives or through their professions. It’s a passion that I inherited from my parents, who owned a learning center that helped several generations within our community for over 40 years. Now I found myself in a situation in which I couldn’t help my own mother. That hurt. That hurt a lot. Out of sheer desperation and frustration I looked for help on the internet and discovered the Alzheimer’s Project. By the time I finally showed up for my first support group meeting at Temple Israel—doing a wheelie with my SUV in the parking lot, running up the stairs into the Temple, barging into the room looking like Medusa and breathing fire like Godzilla… I was a MESS!
We had the financial means, and the familial support to begin aggressively easing my mom’s discomfort and attacking this disease—but we still didn’t know what we were really dealing with; that’s where the Project, as I call it, became an extended part of our family. Through their services such as the support groups, the caregivers’ classes, and respite care, we have been able to find dew in this desert. My mom really enjoys the social and creative aspect of respite care. Being an introvert like myself, she was hesitant to attend her first meeting; however, now she looks forward to socializing with people who may be in various stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. She is able to pour into others like she’s done all of her life—it helps her to feel normal again. Likewise, she is also able to receive the help that she needs at this stage in her life—not only from the staff but from those who like her, are on this journey as well.
For years our family had dodged many bullets. The bullet with dementia’s name on it nicked us. But thanks to God’s grace through the Alzheimer’s Project, I know that we will beat this too.