by Beth Whitman
I have recently become a stay-at-home mom for my mom, as she moves into her second childhood.
I find myself reveling in the delights of everyday quirks and wide-eyed curiosity of my ever-so-cute mother. Things that used to irritate me no end now seem sweet, and I love the challenge of finding workarounds to those stubborn behaviors that used to infuriate me.
I’ve taken many cues from Dad who is a model of patience and acceptance. But since his stroke four years ago, he’s become less able to roll with the behavioral idiosyncrasies that are part of the Alzheimer’s experience. He confessed to me not long after his stroke that he was now more prone to lose his patience and become irritated with Mom. He apologized for this but realized that he could no longer be Mom’s primary caretaker because he himself needed more care.
Being able to take on the caregiving duties for my parents is a luxury many people can’t afford in this day and age. It was an auspicious set of circumstances and planning on my parents’ part that has enabled me to do this, and what they gave me was the gift of being able to give back.
I am fortunate to have a part time job with extremely flexible hours, which allows me to work from home much of the time, but there are things I had to give up in order to take on the task of caring for my parents. I had to give up much of my social life, especially as my mom became more dependent on me. And I had to give up making cheese, the last great adventure I had undertaken before I moved my folks in with me.
The myriad details of cheese-making — coordinating the pick-up of 25 gallons of milk, stirring, heating, scooping curd, then salting, flipping and waxing, all of which is on the cheese’s schedule rather than the cheese-maker’s — were just too time-consuming for me to maintain while taking care of two elderly parents, one with Alzheimer’s disease.
On the other hand, there have been some surprising things I gained as I settled into my new schedule. I have found new creative outlets as a writer and an artist, two terms I would not have previously applied to myself, and I discovered a deeper and more loving relationship with my mom, an experience I would not have missed for the world.
I began taking photos and short videos of Mom to record some of the subtle and surprising changes that have occurred with her Alzheimer’s. And then, to flesh out the whole experience, I started to write about it, allowing me to express the preciousness of this whole experience. The writing has now become this blog, which has enabled me to reach out to the world at large.
Another new development: When my folks moved in, I started an art class for all of us. I was looking for someone who could come to our house as an art teacher, and I stumbled upon a wonderful artist and great teacher named Barbara McCarthy who also happens to be a retired RN. This has been extremely fortuitous, as we Whitmans are not the sort to frequent doctors, and there have been a few times when Barbara’s extra-art advice saved us from a hospitalization or simply gave us new ideas on how to make us all more comfortable.
Yes, there have also been times when Mom has become angry, upset, stubborn and seemingly irrational — indeed, some might deem her as being “noncompliant” — but my goal has always been her happiness. So, unless she was doing something dangerous, I made sure that she felt comfortable and loved and supported, even when she would choose to sit for an hour or two with a laundry basket on her head.
Beth Whitman lives in Maine and is a member of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage, a developing community on the coast of Maine focused on multigenerational living and sustainability.