"...until we are old ladies - a cypress age, a Sawtooth age - I will continue to link arms with her, in public, in private, in a panic of love.
~ Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
Caregiving is a rough, rough trade. You get a care giver and a logger to swap jobs for a day, and I betcha' that logger would flee in a flash of flannel at the first sign of fecal incontinence from an enraged geriatric. The care giver, however, would make it through their logging day without accidentally chainsawing their arm off (well... probably).
I've been flying (Hans) solo since The Other Girl's been on vacation, and with the isolation, and Mom's onerous transition from memory care to home, the first week and a half was truly shitastic - being crushed under a 6,000 pound tree didn't seem like such a horrific alternative to the drawn out emotional and physical battering of being Mom's one-and-only. Here's what turned it around.
Last Wednesday evening, Mom's buddy, Karen, took Mom out for the night. Seeing my solo care giving gig wearing on me, Karen had offered to do so earlier in the week. (Perhaps she had read What's the plan, Stan? and feared for both Mom's and my sanity.) I was so grateful for her unsolicited kindness. I offered to arrange an activity for the two of them, but Karen told me not to worry, to make my own plans, and she would find something for her and Mom to enjoy. I immediately got busy making a sushi date with The Boyfriend in the Basement, overjoyed to have this unexpected gift of freedom drop in my lap.
Once the atrocity of taking her morning shower had subsided from memory, Mom was pretty even keeled on Wednesday - not steeped in sorrow, nor soaring with joy, just steady. I had mentioned a couple of times during the day that Karen was coming by to give her a bit of fun that night, but it hadn't registered. At 5 o'clock Karen walked through our front door. Mom's face lit up with girlish glee, as if the captain of the football team had just happened by in a tuxedo to take her to the prom. "What are you doing here? she gushed. "I've come to take you out. Just like old times!" Karen proclaimed, mirroring Mom's excitement. "Really? Can we go now?"
Mom was beside herself with enthusiasm. I had to chase her down the stairs to give her a jacket! It was as if her knight in shining armor had showed up to free her from the hideous ogre, and while I was equally excited to go have a bit of fun myself, I was a little sore at being cast as the ogre.
The two trotted off into the sunset, and the boyfriend and I headed for the hills.
It was after 10pm before Mom and Karen returned to the house. The Boyfriend in the Basement and I had already been home for about an hour, sushi stuffed and pajama clad. Mom was delighted with her after-curfew appearance, giggling as I teasingly scolded her for staying out past her bedtime while tucking her in for the night. Her pillowed face gave me a big smile, then fell asleep immediately.
A couple of weeks ago I had put up an FB post about a soul night happening at The Eagles Lodge last Friday, hoping some friends would want to be my dates, and that the overnight care giver I had arranged wouldn't fall through at the last minute. She did not, but I had already gotten replies on my post from friends who weren't available or interested.
I completely overreacted to these friends legitimate declines; in my head the tape loop ran along the lines of... "I'm so stupid. Nobody wants to hang out with me anymore. I'm boring. I've got nothing to talk about except Mom. Everybody's tired of me. My butt not only looks huge in these jeans, it is HUGE in these jeans..." you know, as you do when you've hit the bottom of the hope hole.
But one pathetic call to my friend Pony Pow ("I bet she's forgotten. She's prolly got plans with fun friends instead.") fixed my fatalistic frame of mind. Ms. Pow was ready steady! Even though soul night ain't her thing, she and I snuggled up to our pre-func drinks to get our groove going, yammered away at each other and the two other friends who joined in the fun, whirled and twirled with the late-night gitty-ups who have yet to face aging parent issues, and finished the night stuffing slices of pizza in our faces. I woke up the next morning grateful for the hangover, and the friend who raced down the alcoholical alley with me to achieve it.
This is the power of friendship; the power you bring as the support system of friends and loved ones with dementia, and those caring for them. Your contribution of a little time, a little laughter, a little break from the routine of anxiety or hopelessness is a gift to everyone in the trenches. It's not rocket science, it's what most of us have naturally done all our lives, but in the world of dementia the positive effects are magnified. What may seem like a small courtesy to you can result in a seismic shift in attitude for a dementia person and their care giver. For Mom and I, the pleasure of being wanted and accepted by our respective friends resulted in happier demeanors for us both, and made a rough patch smoother and easier to navigate.
We're all somebody's support system. Having been the lucky recipient of so much affection and laughter when most needed throughout this journey, I hope I never miss an opportunity to link arms, and in public or private do the same for others, in a panic of love.