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Caregiving Lessons

A daughter learns a lot about herself in the process of caring for others

It was during one of Dad's longer hospital stints that Mom's transition from moderate to severe finally came. I was exhausted from a week of back and forth to the hospital and dealing with the stream of specialists who were in and out of Dad's room faster than the insurance companies could keep up. The majority of our conversations revolved around Dad. I noticed her repeating was getting worse, but hoped it was merely the exhaustion seeping through. One morning I came in to find her wandering around the house still in her pink housecoat.

"Mommy?" I asked, suddenly so afraid she was gone forever. Please, please, remember me, remember me, remember me. "It's me, Kathy."

"What's wrong?" I asked, going to her side.

"Where is this place, where we are?" She wore a puzzled look. "How did I get here? Where's Tom?" Her voice rose at the mention of my father, because they'd been sweethearts for nearly 60 years now. That kind of bond transcends the boundaries of even Alzheimer's.

"He's not here, Mom, remember?" I saw, though, from the blank look in her eyes, that she didn't. And finally, the words I knew would come one day, but didn't expect this soon.

"Who are you?"

My mom has always been my best friend. She taught me so many things, but she didn't teach me how to cope when she forgot me. How to sort through the clutter of her mind, for that one synapse, that spot that would trigger the memory of holding a small baby girl in her arms, of tucking her into bed at night, of raising her to become a woman.

"Mommy?" I asked, suddenly so afraid she was gone forever. Please, please, remember me, remember me, remember me. "It's me, Kathy." I used the name she always called me. "Remember?"

"Kathy?" she said the name as if it were not something she'd said a thousand times. "No, I have two sons, but I couldn't have any more children."

"I know, but remember, you adopted me, you …" She was shaking her head, agitated, so I stopped. I knew upsetting her would only tighten the knot, not release it. "You and Dad live here. See, this is your room" and I led her to familiar things, photos of us together, which I kept in plain view. It was important to have daily reminders of our bond, whether she knew me as a daughter, or just some woman who took care of them, I wanted to be seen as a familiar. The presence of her quilts and photos and bed seemed to calm her, but there was still no recognition in her eyes.

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