I opened up my Facebook memories this morning to see pictures from my bridal shower, which was around this time eight years ago. In one of the pictures, I’m sitting in a chair, opening gifts, and my mom is standing behind me, looking absolutely clueless. She was about a year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis at that time and to be honest, she probably was absolutely clueless. She didn’t know her role or what she was supposed to do at her daughter’s bridal shower. I immediately began berating myself over how I must have treated my mom that day. Why didn’t I make more of an effort to comfort and include her? Why didn’t I reassure her that she was ok and that she was doing what she was supposed to be doing? Why didn’t I grab her and squeeze her tight and tell her how I excited I was that we were celebrating my bridal shower together?
Looking at that picture, I can only assume how I treated my mom that day because I don’t actually remember. It was eight years ago. I have no idea what I said or did that day. I have no idea how I treated my mom. I just assume that I was impatient, embarrassed, and snapping at her the whole time because that’s all I seem to remember about the beginning of her disease. I ended up getting on my computer and frantically searching for more pictures from that day. I was desperately looking for more pictures of me with my mom to reassure myself that I hadn’t acted like a total asshole. I needed proof that I did my best to include her and to make sure she knew she was an important part of the day.
I found exactly what I was looking for. There was a picture of me showing my mom one of the gifts I had received. There was a picture of my mom with my sister and me. There was a picture of my mom sitting next to one of my bridesmaids. The most important thing to me was that my mom was smiling in all of these pictures. Ok, I thought, I must not have acted like a total asshole that day. I breathed a sigh of relief.
When my mom was diagnosed, I didn’t know anything about Alzheimer’s. I had no idea what she was going through. I was often embarrassed by her behavior because I didn’t want people to think she was crazy or stupid. I was impatient with her because I didn’t understand why she couldn’t do certain things. I didn’t even bother to learn more about the disease because I was so focused on myself. I was newly engaged. I was planning a wedding. I had just bought my first house with my fiancé. And I was busy working a full-time job that made me miserable. I had a lot going on. I was also only twenty-five years old and consumed with self-pity because I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.
As time went on, I learned a lot about the disease and I grew and matured as a person. I learned even more when I became a part-time caregiver for my mom. I gained more patience and understanding. I started to treat my mom differently, in a good way. But I still made mistakes. There were still days when I felt completely defeated and went home to beat myself up over something I said or did. There were still days when I was sure I acted like a total asshole. I’ve learned a lot along the way, but I still don’t have all the answers. I still don’t know it all. I’m not perfect. None of us are.
Knowing that, why do I continue to look through old pictures and beat myself up for the mistakes I made with my mom? Or the mistakes I assume I made?
One thing I’ve learned on this journey, or am still trying to learn, is that you have to forgive yourself for what you didn’t know, when you didn’t know it. We are all thrust into this situation unwillingly. Many of us have never had experience with Alzheimer’s until our loved one was diagnosed. Many of us have no idea what the hell we’re doing. There is no roadmap. There is no rule book. There is no idiot’s guide to Alzheimer’s. And no matter how much you know about the disease, you are still constantly learning more as you go. It’s a process. It’s a slog. You do what you have to do, when you have to do it, and you learn as you go. That’s it.
Of course you’re going to make mistakes! Of course you’re going to make bad decisions! It’s going to happen. There is no other way to learn. You’re doing the best you can with what you have on any given day. You have to forgive yourself for what you didn’t know, when you didn’t know it. You’re never going to be a perfect caregiver. There is no such thing. But as long as you’re learning from your mistakes, that’s all that matters.
During my desperate search for more pictures from my bridal shower, I found other pictures and videos I wasn’t even looking for. Ones I didn’t even know existed. Pictures of me spending time with my mom. Pictures of her smiling. Videos of her clapping for my dog while he was swimming in her pool. I found love. Lots and lots of love. Love I don’t even remember showing her. Time I don’t even remember spending with her. Sometimes we, or at least I, have a tendency of remembering things much worse than they were. What I realized today is that it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought. I probably wasn’t as impatient as I remember. I probably treated my mom better than what I remember.
And I’m sure you’re doing better than you think, too. I’m sure you know more than you think. I’m sure you’re caring for your loved one better than you know. So, forgive yourself for what you didn’t know, when you didn’t know it. Learn from it. Move forward with that knowledge. Everything in life is a process. We’re all just learning as we go. It’s the only way.