Tuesday, August 19, 2008

As the Mind Wanders...

I was born and raised in Texas, lived here all my life, and I'm awfully proud to be from what we lovingly call "God's country." Not that there haven't been times in my life when I've wanted to escape to somewhere — anywhere — else. But fate and numerous life choices have conspired to keep me here in the Houston area, and I know this is where I'm intended to be at this point in my life.

Over sixteen years ago, and after years of pleading, the beautiful and eternally patient love of my life finally relented and became my Wonderful Wife. From the outset, Tiffany and I told all our friends and family that we didn't plan to have kids, and we meant it. So imagine everyone's surprise seven years later when we announced the impending birth of our firstborn. Little Cat came into the world squalling and demanding our utmost attention, and she's had it since day one. Two years later, little brother Cowboy galloped in to claim his stake in our hearts, and our lives seemed complete. We had our clan, our house was full; we were happy right where we were.

So imagine our surprise when, a couple of years ago, we found ourselves becoming new parents again, of a sort.

For a number of years, my mother had been driving from Houston to East Texas every other weekend to care for her own aging mother. Mammaw was widowed, was almost blind, and had been gradually declining in health for some time. However, she was able to stay in her small town home with the help of a small team of local ladies (what we now call "care providers") who took turns staying with her, cooking, administering medicines, and basically becoming her round-the-clock companions.

A year or so before Mammaw's death, we began to notice gradually increasing bouts of depression, confusion and forgetfulness in Mom. At first we attributed it mostly to stress and depression, and since she lived alone and was out of town every other weekend, my sisters and I largely had to depend on Mom's own reports to keep us up to date on how she was doing. Unfortunately, it took us quite a while to realize something was really wrong, or just how wrong it was.

About two and a half years ago, we found out that Mom had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. Things had gotten to a point that — being the only family member still in the vicinity — I had to step in and start taking over at least partial care of her. The title of Jim Comer's excellent reference and support book, When Roles Reverse: A Guide to Parenting Your Parents, is so very descriptive of the changes our lives have taken the last few years.

Mom is stilling living on her own in the townhouse that has been her home since we moved to Houston in 1981. However, we have regular care providers who come over twice a week to visit, help her with little things around the house, check on her medicines, take her to the grocery store and any other errands that are needed, and generally provide a non-family link to the outside world. I am less than an hour's drive away, and I go over every other weekend to visit, to help with things around the house and to manage the finances. And we normally talk on the phone at least once a day. We continue to watch the gradual deterioration, and we all know it will be a long and painful ride. But we are managing and even slowing the symptoms with prescription medicines, and are working together to try to manage the constant confusion and loss of memory caused by the disease.

In the meantime, my own kids are growing up faster than I can believe. Life is certainly never dull here in our little corner of the world!


Mike said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Kyle. Based on your posts so far, you're already a credit to our community!

Susan said...

I'm so envious of your Pilated Woodpecker encounter. We don't have them around here but I am making it my business to go to them one day and cross them off my life list.

Congratulations on a wonderful shot.

Kathiesbirds said...

Kyle, so sorry that you have to deal with this dreaded disease in your mom! As a former "Caregiver" to those with Alzheimer's, I know the rough road you have ahead of you. However, even as her Mind Wanders and she loses her ability to speak or make sense, never forget that she is still in there and she is still your mom and loves you with all of her heart!

I use to read stories to one of my clients and take her for walks or out to dinner. Another client use to love me to sing sunday school songs to her. Though neither client could make sense when they spoke. Still, I was amazed at all they percieved and communicated through their body language and temperment. Look for little clues and subtle things.

I can tell you will love her 'til the end. It will be hard, I know but don't give up. You will never know how much your love and care will make a difference in her life and how much she will continue to teach you even as she fades away.

My best wishes and prayers are with you and your family. ~Kathie