Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--"I'm Here But I've Changed."

Last week would have been my 39th anniversary if my husband had lived. Every year on August the twentieth, I think about him and us and life as it was.

This time I remembered that shy twenty-three year old who wore the dress her sister made and daisies in her hair. Her veil was long and borrowed and had multiple moth holes up one side, so she sewed lace appliqu├ęs over the moth holes and then created a similar pattern on the other side. Her hair was long and brown. She was afraid of driving. She was afraid of new places and new experiences. She was mortally afraid of her mother-in-law (with good reason.)

When I looked at that person who was me at twenty-three, I barely knew her.

Fast forward thirty years and a few months. I am a new widow. It's been a horrific year, culminating with my husband's death of heart disease. I'm confused as I try to navigate the whole widow thing. None of my peers have the same experience. I make difficult executor decisions. I struggle with finances. I find new depths of loneliness.

When I look at the person who was me at fifty-five, she is more familiar, but still, I have moved on and grown. I am not her any more, either.

I hear the expression, "Alzheimer's stole my mother." It grates on me. It would be like a lifelong friend claiming, "Marriage stole that twenty-three year old Ann. She's gone. I can't find her any more." Marriage didn't steal me.

I'm still here, but I changed.

"Sometimes, it’s not the people who change, it’s the mask that falls off." Anonymous

All through our lives, we grow and change. Physically, this is certainly true, but it's also true in other ways. Mentally, we mature. Emotionally, as we experience and process the experiences in out lives, we are marked by them. Socially, we find we enjoy different experiences and different kinds of friendships than when we were younger. We become wise or not, depending on how we process the lessons life has taught us.

Alzheimer's disease and other dementias accelerate this change. We may see changes every time we visit, and as those who love the person with the disease, we view them as losses. They can't remember. They can't do what they used to do. Our relationship isn't the same. Alzheimer's has stolen them.

No, it hasn't. They are changed.

My mother had Alzheimer's, and it changed her. She was an enthusiastic gardner, and she forgot the names of her plants. She enjoyed golfing, but couldn't play any more. She was a great cook, but forgot how to make eggs, or even how to work the stove. All of these things we grieved.

But not everything was losses. Mom was a person with opinions about everything, and no fear of voicing them. She was seldom open to other points of view, especially about the way things should be done. She had rules for every aspect of life, and they were to be followed without question. Because she was proficient in so many things, and so sure of herself, she was seldom able to receive from me.

As her Alzheimer's progressed, she softened. She was less sure of herself, more vulnerable, and the rules disappeared. I was able to give to her and she received from me. We grew closer than we'd ever been.

I grieved those things that seemed so much a part of her. She loved her garden, how could she be so lost in it? She's sewn a coat, how was it that she couldn't sew on a button? These things hurt, but I learned that she was the same person, with changes. I learned to embrace and even celebrate some of the changes.

No one in your life remains static. Look at your loved one with Alzheimer's, and ask yourself, what changes can I celebrate?

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING: This is a radical philosophy that goes outside most of what you read about dementia. What do you think?


  1. My mother lost her ability to paint when she had a stroke and I grieved for her. Her painting had become her life. Earlier she lost her desire to play the piano and organ because it no longer sounded right to her, even though she played the songs as beautifully as ever. I'm not sure who grieved more, Mom or me. I felt so helpless as I watched her go downhill in so many ways.

    Thank you for your insights, Ann.

  2. Thanks for your insights, Janice. There are certainly losses to grieve. But I bet there were parts of your mother that you could celebrate, too. Her sense of humour, her insights, perhaps her loving look. Even though painting and music were huge in her life, and important to her, I'm sure there were other parts of her you enjoyed and celebrated.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, Cheryl!