I may regret a lot of things in life, but one thing I will never regret is being there for my mother when she needed me the most. Even if she didn't know it.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on May 25, 2022. It has since been updated.
I'll admit, there were times I just wanted to give up and leave because taking care of my mother who has Alzheimer's was exhausting, both physically and mentally.
But how could I? She was the woman who had watched me take my first steps, showered me with love and care when I hurt myself, cheered me on the loudest when I achieved something. I needed to - I wanted to - care for her the same way she did me all her life. And I learned these seven essential lessons while doing my best to ease her pain:
The first time she forgot who I was nearly broke me. I was supposed to be one of the most important people in her life and she just... forgot me? She was the one who patched up my scraped knees, the first person to know about something significant in my life, the parent who somewhere turned into my friend. But it happened and the heartbreak was never-ending. Yet, there was one thing I understood. She may have forgotten me, but I will always remember everything she has done for me selflessly and without question.
Every time she wandered off or broke a glass when she got angry, I wanted to mirror her reaction. But then it struck me. She doesn't know what she's doing. How confusing it must be for her not to remember even simple things, isn't it? Once I realized that it took a while, I stopped blaming her. Sometimes, I still feel like doing it but then I remind myself, no matter all the trouble I caused her, she bore with me and gave me a home to come back to. I wanted to do the same for her.
It's frustrating when she asks the same question or says the same thing over and over again even if we've spoken about it just five minutes back. "Yes, it was a good lunch"; "yes, 1981 was a great year"; "yes, dad is still alive and happy." But if she could make the younger me happy by answering my endless questions about everything under the sun, then I just want to see her happy as well. Even if it means having to hear the same thing constantly.
I learned this the hard way. Every time I lost my cool with her, she would break down. It hit me one day, out of the blue, that just because she wasn't able to tell me what she needed exactly or to chat with me like a friend the way she used to, didn't mean it was right on my part to let my frustrations out on her. It took a lot of patience and time to truly give her what she needed the most — me by her side. It wasn't easy for me but I knew I needed to be there for her the way she was for me.
The woman before the disease claimed her was someone I could openly talk to about anything. She would tell me what she wanted and I would reciprocate. But the woman whose memory is fading could not. With her constantly forgetting things and being unable to remember even simple things, she had changed. There was one important thing that I reminded myself about... that she is still the same mom who loved me unconditionally. Her mind may have been taken over by Alzheimer's, but her heart, that's still the same. So it's only fair that the same love be given to her by me, the person she raised with affection and care.
When I thought she had forgotten me, I thought she had absolutely no memory of me. Until she had a brief semi-lucid moment where she recalled a time that we were in a park, chasing each other and then laughing till we ran out of breath. Of course, she didn't know it was me and referred to me in the third person, as her daughter. But it was then that I knew that even the few memories she had intact of the good times we had, they were still valid and clearly they mattered to her if she could remember it. I still mattered.
It took me a while to realize that I didn't have much time with her left. The disease would take her soon and if I didn't treasure what I had with her now, I would regret it after her passing. I would end up only remembering the times that I fought with her or felt angry about her situation, which she had no control over. So I started to really value those memories we create together. I want her to be happy in whatever little time she has left. That's why I will do everything I can to give her the kind of life she gave me growing up — full of love and affection.
Disclaimer: This article is based on insights from different sources. The views expressed here are those of the writer.