Wendy – Hey, Boomer

My mom, Sena Parris Martin, was the nineth of 11 children born to Vernie and Essie Parris. Her Dad, my Papa, was a tobacco sharecropper. Growing up during the Great Depression, Mom was no stranger to hard work including picking cotton, cutting, tying and hanging tobacco and lots of other chores.  When she found herself a single mom of 5 at the age of 35, I am sure that good work ethic came in handy. 

Mom was meek, quiet, and happy to fly beneath the radar.  She had a very quick wit and a sparkle in her eyes.  She loved birds, tending to her flower beds, spending time with family and singing.  Mom’s health was good overall until her mid-80s. That is when she fell and broke her hip. 

Her decline begins

After that ordeal, we really began to see changes in her mental health.  It began with small things like finding clothes put away in strange places. She started keeping food in the refrigerator that had gone bad and did not to throw it out.  Then she began thinking the house was not hers although “someone had tried to decorate it with her things.” 

Round-the-clock care

Beginning in early 2020, just as Covid really hit the US, I and my 5 siblings began caring for Mom and my stepdad, Lloyd, around the clock seven days a week.  Mom had begun getting up to wander around the house at night and would sometimes even begin cooking food and forgetting about it.  We also needed to manage her medications.  We each took shifts and worked out a calendar for a month at a time.  Because I still worked full time, my shifts were generally on the weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening. 

While making the 90-minute drive down on Friday after working all week, I would give myself a little pep talk.  “Missy, be patient.  Take your time when you are doing things.  Think of things to do and talk about that they will enjoy.”  It was hard.  I was tired.  Mom couldn’t hear well so I had to talk very loudly and repeat myself numerous times.  I carefully planned menus and let my feelings get hurt when they didn’t like what I had prepared.  And yes, I became impatient when after carefully helping and tucking Mom into bed after her assurance that she did not need to go to the bathroom, I was beckoned only minutes later to help her to the bathroom. 

Guilt and Heartbreak

I am not proud of any of these things.  I never knew what my time there was going to be like.  Would there be numerous bathroom accidents?  Would Mom be so dizzy that I had to pick her up to move her?  Would it be one of those weekends when she realized her mind was going and would cry over and over, “I’m not good for anything anymore.  I’m worthless.  Why do I have to be this way?”  It was heartbreaking and exhausting, mentally and physically.  When my weekend there was over, I would get in my car to leave, and the guilt set in.  I had lost my patience.  I had not planned the perfect meal.  Mom didn’t enjoy the activity I had worked so hard to come up with.  I would beat myself up and rack my brain to come up with a better plan for next time.  Lather, rinse, repeat. As the months and years of dementia marched on, we saw less and less of that spark in her eyes.  I have never been through anything like this with anyone else.  I never realized what others went through while watching a loved one slowly slip away.  I never realized how much of who we are resided in our eyes.  Of course, we use our eyes to express emotions like surprise, joy, anger, fear, and love.  But until I was a Caregiver, I didn’t realize how much of our essence, our being, our person, resides in those two precious orbits.  For me, looking into Mom’s eyes and seeing confusion, fear and emptiness was one of the hardest things.  We could help her with all the physical things.  Sometimes, I just had to walk away and cry. 

Sometimes I just got angry, and the questions would begin.  Why?  What purpose can this serve for her to be like this?  Why do so many people have to travel this path?  Why do people linger in this condition?  What exactly is going on in her mind?  What is she thinking?  Where does she think she is?  Is she afraid?  Is she lonely? 

Not knowing what to say or do, and really there is nothing you can do to fix the situation, I would often take her hand, put lotion on her hands and arms, scratch her back or rub her shoulders.  The physical touch and personal attention seemed to comfort her.  It reminded me that it really is the small things in life that matter the most – brushing her hair, a warm washcloth for her face in the morning, a hot cup of fresh coffee.  I miss doing those things for her. 

The final goodbye

We continued with the at home care giving for more than 18 months.  Due to several family members’ own health issues and family needs, we just couldn’t provide the round-the-clock care we had been giving any longer.  My mom and stepdad were moved to assisted living.  While doing so did take some of the workload off us, caregiving certainly does not end there.  One of us was there about every other day and still found ourselves changing her wet clothes, bathing her, making sure she was eating, etc. 

As is often the case with patients who have dementia, Mom stopped eating.  After spending several days in the hospital, we made the difficult decision to move her to Hospice rather than take her back to her home.  It took some convincing for me to agree.  For us, it was the right decision.  For 15 days, we never left her side.  The care and support of the Hospice staff allowed us to just be her children and her to be our mom rather, than us being caregivers and her our patient.  We held her hands, kissed her face, rubbed lotion on her hands.  We talked, we laughed, we sang, we told each other things we wanted and needed to say.  That was a true blessing that I know most caregivers do not get. I am and will be forever grateful for that time.

Eyes Of Dementia &Raquo; Bane Melissa Headshot 4 002
Melissa Bane

In her role as a Senior Private Client Advisor, Melissa provides personal attention and service to high-net-worth individuals, personal trusts, and foundations.  She enjoys building relationships and is honored to come alongside her clients during their most difficult circumstances, as well as to celebrate with them during their happiest times. She has been in the financial industry for more than 30 years.  She is a Principal with Greenwood Capital.

Melissa is the mother of two wonderful sons, and a doting “Mimi” of three. She believes in giving back to her community and has served on the grants committee of Greenville Women Giving since 2017. In her free time she enjoys gardening, baking, and both attending and participating in local theater.

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Originally Published on HeyBoomer.biz

Wendy Green Blogger, Podcaster

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