I’m currently sitting in the Atlanta airport with at least another hour to kill before my flight back to Alabama. As I sit here ignoring the hustle and bustle of everyone around me, I am deep in thought. My recent trip home to visit my parents has really got me thinking about how much our lives have changed since my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over five years ago. Five years? Is that all it’s been? It seems like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in five years. My Mom is a dramatically different person than she was back then. So is my Dad. I can’t even begin to imagine what our lives will be like in another five years. Or five months for that matter.
Five years ago, my Mom was walking and talking and eating and doing things for herself almost like a normal person. There were slight differences, but they were only visible to her closest family members. Five years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself doing half of the shit that I do for her now. I couldn’t imagine having to help her walk or get into the car. I couldn’t imagine having to show her where the bathroom is in her own house and then helping her use it. I couldn’t imagine having to cut her food up into tiny little pieces and show her how to eat it. I couldn’t imagine having to help her get dressed like a four-year-old. I couldn’t imagine having to talk…like…this…just…so…she…could…understand…me. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you that I wouldn’t be capable of doing any of the things that I do for her now. The same goes for now when I try to envision what our lives will be like in five years.
I am incredibly lucky to have very sweet, supportive friends at home in Delaware. During my recent trip, I was able to spend time with some of them. During a conversation over cheese, pretzel bites, and pizza (don’t judge!), we were talking about my Mom and how she’s doing. I mentioned that I think she may be on the verge of incontinence because she never knows when she has to use the bathroom. I’ll ask her if she has to go and she’ll say that she doesn’t. I’ll ask her to try to go anyway so she does. I’ll stand outside the bathroom door and listen to her peeing. So, she did have to go to the bathroom, but she didn’t recognize the feeling that she had to go. I’m not an expert, but I believe this means that she will probably become incontinent in the near future. I was telling my friends that I could never imagine myself changing my Mom’s diapers someday and how difficult that would be. I told them that I didn’t want to have to do that for my Mom and that I hoped I wouldn’t have to. Then, my dear friend, with tears in her eyes, said, “I know that you don’t want to do it, but I think that you will be able to. When that day comes, you will do it.” With tears in my own eyes, I said, “I don’t want to have to do that for my Mom. I wish I wouldn’t have to do that someday. I don’t want that to be my life.”
After we wiped our tears, watched Magic Mike 2 in our Snuggies, and ate donuts (again, don’t judge!), I got to thinking. My sweet friend was right. I think back to all of the things I once said I didn’t want to have to do for my Mom five years ago. I do all of those things now. I still don’t want to have to change my Mom’s diapers or feed her pureed food someday, but I know I will. Somehow, I will find the strength to do it for my Mom. I’m sure that it will be very difficult at first. I have a feeling that I will go through the entire grieving process again. When your loved one has Alzheimer’s, you are constantly grieving new losses. You lose a little bit more of them as time goes on. Then, you eventually become accustomed to the new loss and begin to accept it. But, it won’t be long before you lose a little bit more and you begin the grieving process all over again. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s means that your life is changing constantly. You learn to adapt to these changes just in time for new changes to arrive. Change and adapt. Change and adapt. Change and adapt. That’s just the way it goes.
I think that it is amazing what we can adapt to throughout our lives. We can become used to doing things that we could never have imagined ourselves doing before we were suddenly doing them. After a while, it becomes no big deal. We adapt ourselves and our lives to the changes around us. The thing is that we are always capable of doing more than we think we can do. It really is true that you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. It never gets any easier, but you always get stronger. Five years ago, I never thought that I was strong enough to handle the things that I do for my Mom now. I couldn’t even look at my Mom without tearing up and having to leave the room to cry. Now, I smile when I look at her. She’s still the same person, but she just needs help with a lot of things. I know that she feels safe with me and that she appreciates my help. I’m sure that there will come a time in the future when I no longer smile when I look at her. I’m sure that I will tear up and have to leave the room to cry. But, I also know that I will smile again. The changes will come and it will suck and I will cry a lot. But then, I will adapt and grow stronger and smile again, eventually. I’m still afraid of what the future holds for us, but I know that I’ll be able to handle it. It will be difficult at first, but I will adapt and overcome the challenges I am faced with. You never know how much you’re capable of doing until you try. What I do know is that love wins every time. The love I have for my Mom will help me to find the strength I need to handle whatever presents itself. For my Mom, I will adapt and overcome. For my Mom, I will find my strength. I will be STRONG.