A Change of Perspective

August 27, 2011

“My mother is thinking of sending me to a private school next year,” said my friend.  She was perfectly serious, but her eyes were smiling.  “Really?  Which one?”  I replied in the same serious tone.  We both broke into a grin, but another friend nearby looked at us like we were crazy.

You see, my friend is a woman in her forties and finished school years ago.  We smiled because the statement was ridiculous, but I smiled even more because I knew how far my friend had come and how much her perspective had changed since I first met her.

About 18 months ago, I received a phone call one cold, rainy Saturday morning from a woman in tears.  She told me her name and that a mutual friend had told her to contact me.  Her mother had Alzheimer’s disease, she told me.  Her mom still lived in her own home, but had sitters who came to the house every day.  The caller was distraught, grieving the ever-changing loss of the mother she loved so well.  We talked for a long time and I suggested several books she might read to help her.

In the time since, my friend’s mother has moved into an assisted living facility.  In her mother’s view of the world, it’s about 1975 and her mother is making the decisions that were important to the family at the time, private vs. public school for her daughter, for example.  That being said, her mother is “happy as a lark.”  Perhaps a bigger surprise is that my friend is happy, too.

My friend has learned the secret of living as a family with Alzheimer’s disease.  When the disease strikes, the first reaction is denial.  The second is an overwhelming need to fight the disease.  The problem with this second reaction is that as I fight the disease, I often end up fighting my loved one who has the disease.  I think if I work hard enough, fight long enough, I can bring back the person I love.  I argue with her bizarre statements, correct her at every turn.  I end up making myself and my loved one miserable.

So what’s the secret?  Stop fighting the person.  Love her as she is in her ever-changing now.  Whatever bizarre statement she makes, follow her line of conversation.  When my friend’s mother said, “I’m thinking of sending you to a private school next year,” my friend’s reaction, quite wisely, was, “What school do you think I should go to?  Do you think I’ll have any friends there?”  She joined her mother in her mother’s world and both were at peace, even in the midst of Alzheimer’s.

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2 Responses to “A Change of Perspective”

  1. I love this story… Things like that happen everyday when you’re caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s –.

    And the secret! is spot-on! Stop fighting their disease and accept them for who they are.

    I loved this post. So many memories of my own Mom.

    Sandy

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