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?
Many weekday afternoons I stole away from my workday for a little rendezvous. I drove far into the southern part of the city.
There I hurried through the lobby, walked swiftly down the corridors and until I reached the locked door. There I punched in a secret code that allowed me into the inner sanctum, the memory care unit where my mother lived.
Walking into my mother’s room was always a surprise: I never knew who would greet me; a sweet curly-haired woman wearing a pink sweat suit and looking quietly compose? An anxious haggard woman who bent to pick up invisible lint on the floor and jabbered with invisible creatures lurking in the corners? Or an exhausted former beauty, lying across the single bed wearing an orange pullover and an adult diaper? My task was to appreciate every aspect of my complicated mother and whoever she was at the moment.
When my friend Maril asked, “Can I go with you to visit your mother?” I felt like a flutter of angels had gathered around me.
“Really?” I asked. “You want to see Mom with me?”
She did. I prepared her for our visit, describing Mom’s various moods. Maril did not seem shocked, worried or afraid. I told her about walking into the sometimes chaotic energy of the locked Alzheimer’s unit. She simply nodded as if this were an ordinary occurrence, which, for me, it was.
The day of our visit I felt lightness inside; I was eager to share my secret world with my friend.
Throughout the years, Mom has always been gracious with my friends and that day was no exception. Mom was sitting at a table in the dining room with a magazine in front of her. She looked pretty and serene and she smiled when we came in. We sat next to her and Maril took her hands.
“How are you Fran?” Maril said, looking into my mother’s eyes.
“Well I you know the scatter of it all,” my mother answered.
“I do know the scatter of it all. How are you getting along here?”
“Like a diamond in the sky,” my mother said.
As I listened as my mother and my friend talk, I was “Your mother is really something,” Maril said as we left the home. “I enjoyed seeing her. I’d like to go again with you sometime.”proud of my mother’s poetic and eccentric answers, proud of the way she engaged in the conversation. And I was grateful that my friend was able to appreciate my mother, listen to her words and intuit their deeper meaning.
The visit was a huge gift for me. Seeing Maril engage with and appreciate my mom just as she was reminded me of the depths of my mother’s many talents and facets. This knowledge later helped me get through those moments when my mother seemed faraway or lost. My friend reminded me- there are so many ways to carry on a good conversation. All you need is attention, intention and love.