By Barbara Bowen
In the six years since I quit work to care for my mother who has dementia, I’ve learned lots of things—including
some I’d rather not know.
Letting go has been my hardest struggle. As Mom’s
disorder has progressed, many things have changed. I don’t
like change. There are always, as the saying goes, “claw
marks” on everything I release. So I get to practice on an
ever-changing set of circumstances.
So far, I have released thinking my mother could operate
a computer, remember to take her medications, or drive
safely without getting lost. At one time, she could handle
basics like cooking, dressing, and showering, and I assumed
that would continue to be true. I once trusted that she
could understand choices or hold a rational conversation.
Walking together was something we had done for so long;
the possibility that we couldn’t do it anymore dawned
on me slowly. It seemed obvious to me that she would
remember her groundbreaking professional career. I
assumed she would always understand a joke, sing with
me, play simple games, and create art. In the most recent
stages of the disease, I have confidently, and erroneously,
based decisions on believing she could remember to use
her walker or live alone with help. I have had to release all
this—and more. But first I had to change my thoughts.
I would be “thinking” everything was as it used to be.
Then something would happen, and I would be forced
to face this new reality. Almost all the changes were
emotionally wrenching. For instance, it wasn’t until
Mom’s doctor told her she could no longer drive that I
admitted how diminished her faculties and reasoning had
become. I had been denying the signs of her confusion,
not wanting to see, blindly assuming she was as clear and
able to function as she had been in the past. Unwillingly,
I was forced to change my thinking about her level of
ability in this and all other situations we confronted. I
also had to deal with the sorrow in my own heart at the
loss of independence she rebelled against and grieve the
increased isolation and fear she faced.
A daughter meets the
challenge of great change
with great heart