A few months ago as I listened to Charlton Heston on television, I remember my emotional system shifting into an electrified shock when this spectacular actor stated, to paraphrase, "I have Alzheimers." He humbly added, "While I am able, I'm taking this time to thank my public for the tremendous support given to me throughout my film career." Heston mentioned that he will continue work, not giving into the disease until doctors tell him to do so.
Family members of Alzheimers patients go through four phases: 1) denial; 2) anger; 3) grief; and 4) acceptance. At various times it is common for a close friend or family member to vacillate these feelings.
After working relentlessly to deny my mother has this progressive fatal disease, I have moved to the next step. Becoming overwhelmed has merely acquainted me with one facet of the anger step.
After talking with this amazing woman named Norma at the Alzheimers Association, the words, "a short window of time," equal the likes of a rhythmus river dance monumentally stomping on my own brain cells.
Towering overhead, the dance follows my every step, pounding out constant requests – faster... faster. My Jeminy Cricket conscience repeatedly delivers, "You must do these things for your mother 'yesterday.'"
In truth, getting matters in order does not require immediate action. It does however require the creation of a things-to-do list. It does require purchasing the best seller book on Alzheimers entitled, "The 36-Hour Day". I understand that this is an Alzheimers bible -- not to be read like a novel. When what-to-do-in-this-situation questions arise, most answers can easily be found in this excellent reference guide.
When Norma repeatedly used the phrase, "Beverly, you have a 'short window of time,'" I was beginning to wonder if she has Alzheimers. But after a few more questions, the meaning of her statement trickled into my being.
"I thought Alzheimers could last anywhere from one year to twenty years."
"Oh," Norma responded, "I'm not referring to your mother's death. I am sharing with you the facts and what you can perhaps anticipate, though every case is different. Basically the difference is how persons respond to it. Now that your mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, you will have 'a short window of time' (umm those words again) to get things in order, such as, 1) a long-term living plan; 2) learning new communicative responses while learning that the disease is talking--not your mother; 3) securing a power of attorney; 4) working with your mother and yourself through living in the moment; 5) financial planning; and 6) last but not least, getting help and taking care of you.
Norma and I concluded our phone call. When I thanked Norma for her time, she replied, "I'm happy to talk and listen. Call me anytime. Bev, we'll be growing as friends. You will be calling again and again. You just don't know it yet."
Okay--I am beginning to see the devastation that lies ahead. I am beginning to visualize that other families deal with this incredibly horrific illness. I am beginning to realize that Nancy Reagan has gone through hell and back--that the Heston family will do the same thing--that many people have and will climb this mountain. I, too, am beginning my own Alzheimers journey alongside my beautiful mother.
Thankfully, I realize that I am not alone. Aloneness is another symptom frequently felt by Alzheimers' family members. There are many. One in three persons over 80 years old will suffer from the cruelty of this terrible phase of life.
My first question upon hearing that my mother has Alzheimers was, "What am I going to do?"
If we live long enough, each one of us will become challenged with a devastating circumstance(s) in our life. But there is another side. By paying close attention to knowledgeable persons on whatever the problem, by listening to professionals, and by sharing with supportive strangers (who will in many cases become our friends), and by including ourselves in a group supportive of whatever the trauma in our lives, we can and will eventually realize how awesome and comforting it is to know that there really is a solution to life's uphill battles. We may not always like it, but it's there.
So where are my own answers as an Alzheimers family member? They are discovered in following directions. Sometimes we as family members cannot rely on our own judgment, though difficult for s to admit. We are too close to the situation. With that being the case, I will surround myself with supportive friends, exercise, feed myself the proper nutrition, and move with each new day while growing into a deeper and closer relationship with my God.
God is my power. Along with making every effort to follow directions from support groups, my doctor, and the Alzheimers Association's suggestions, I will pray. I will go ahead and ask God to forgive me when I yell at Him. I will love God and thank Him for allowing me to have my mother for 86 wonderful years. Yes...I will vacillate. But I will stick with God.
Only by doing these things will I become equipped to deal with that "short window of time" when the question, "What am I going to do" pops into my mind--a question I do not want to dwell within me.
So now I turn to my dog and ask, "Okay, Bozo, how about a walk in the park?" As Bozo wags her tail, I smile. I am "in the moment"--the best place any of us can be as we journey through this thing called life.
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