Recently, I met Cynthia and her mother, Frances. I was so inspired by their story and I wanted to share it with you.
Some people steal away to a day spa so they can slow down and relax. Others take a vacation or immerse themselves in a meditation retreat. Cynthia Robinson, age 61, didn’t have time for any of those options. It was 2010, and as she was trying to build her consulting practice, she realized her 88-year-old mother, who lived alone, had memory problems. When Cynthia took her mother to a neurologist, the diagnosis was mild cognitive impairment, which for many is a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
Cynthia was thrust into the role of primary caregiver.
“Initially, I felt irritated and a little resentful,” she said. “I loved my mother but I didn’t want caring for her to take up so much of my time.”
Deciding What Was Most Important In Life
Cynthia had to decide what was most important. Was it taking care of her mother or building her business? She analyzed her situation; her husband was retired and they could get by on his income.
“I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take care of Mom,” she said. She had another reason: she felt she could be at risk for Alzheimer’s. “I wanted to model caring behavior so my daughters and husband would know how to act if I ever developed this disease,” she said.
Cynthia wanted to think of ways her mom could feel valuable and really loved and she experimented with these concepts:
She slowed down to her mother’s pace. She didn’t bring her computer over to her mom’s house; she didn’t talk on her cell phone or check her emails and texts. “I tried to patiently experience my mom’s world,” she said.
Listen Lovingly and Learn
Even though she sometimes bit her lip in frustration as her mom endlessly repeated the same story, Cynthia practiced really listening to her mom’s tales.
“Once I did this, I heard stories I’d never heard before,” she said. “ I learned some meaningful family history.”
Experience the Sensory Beauty of the Present
“I had never paid attention to the millions of shades of bright green,” Cynthia said. “But Mom notices sensory things and we talk about the colors, the flowers and the trees. She keeps me in the here and now.”
Seek Interesting Solutions
Normally, Cynthia’s mom would never wear a hat. But her long hair was thinning and Cynthia bought her a cute cap. Her mom was delighted by the gift and whenever she wore it, she received compliments.
Find New Common Ground
Cynthia installed birdfeeders at her mom’s house. Enjoying the ever-changing array of birds increased her mom’s quality of life and gave them a new topic of conversation.
Delighting in Her Mother’s Gifts
The more Cynthia slowed down and stayed in the present with her mom, the more she appreciated her mother’s wisdom and serenity. Her mother repeatedly told her, “People are about as cheerful as they make up their minds to be.”
“ My mother once guided me through the experience of being a parent,” Cynthia said. “Now, she’s guiding me in the experience of how to make the best of Alzheimer’s.”
**Who are your unexpected guides? What fascinating lessons are you learning on your journey?