The lessons my mother’s dementia has taught me

Watching your parent develop dementia is a very heartbreaking moment and an incredibly hard thing to face as adults. With the month of February being the month of love, we decided to highlight a very special bond of love and that is between mother and child; and particularly mother and daughter. It is usually the parents job to worry about their children and not always the other way around. During these heartbreaking moments, such as any in life, come lessons and we asked the daughters of two residents about the lessons their mother’s dementia has taught them. Their responses were exceptionally powerful and the message incredible meaningful that we have shared it as is below:

“The two biggest lessons I learned from living with a mother with Alzheimer’s are: You cannot control fate, and there are things you cannot fix. My mother gave much of her life to caring for others, particularly the elderly, and even more particularly, many of the older people in our family. She was the good wife, mother and daughter. At the back of her mind must surely have been the knowledge that her time would come. That the sacrifices she made today would be repaid in full when she herself grew old. But life doesn’t always work like that.

In my own life, I have a tendency to try and fix things, to make things better. For several years before my mother was diagnosed, she lurched from one crisis to another. It never ended. And with each crisis, I thought if I can just fix this problem, everything would return to normal. Life would be fine again. But there is no fixing Alzheimer’s. No way to make it better again. Both of these lessons have made me re-evaluate how I live my own life and the choices I make each day.

In the context of these lessons, I can honestly say that my own life has changed much for the better since my mother moved into Livewell Villages. She is cared for with the same attention and tenderness that she gave so freely, and those crises when they arise, are managed with skill and dignity.” – Jenny Parsons



“I was in Spain when I heard of my father’s death. The rock of my mother’s increasingly vague existence had gone. She wore her smart turquoise striped dress to the funeral and amazed us all with the poise and grace of her greetings and the way she seemed to accept that the man she’d adored and depended on for more than 50 years was gone.

She came back with me to the farm and her cottage. As we all grappled to come to terms with the loss of my dad; my mother started her dark and lost search for her centre, the one who had given her security and direction, particularly in the last years of increasing forgetfulness. Her search led her up and down the constricting paths of our homes and garden. No entertainment or distraction could hold her for more than a few minutes. Somewhere, her beloved husband was to be found, if she asked enough times and searched hard enough. We, her children, had no answers that could bring rest and assurance to her increasing distress and confusion. The soft tissues used to mop up her tears would end up as little tattered fragments stuck like snowflakes to her swollen red eyes and nose.

I, her daughter living on the farm with her, couldn’t reach her. Kittens, carers, visits to parks and friends, handwork and medication; all these attempts to bring quietness and understanding, fell flat and useless in the face of her thundering forgetfulness and loss.

My own levels of frustration, anger and sadness reached a point where I could no longer care for her. I was doing more harm than good to the precious mother who had loved me all my life. So we put her in Livewell Villages, where the carers were more objective than I could be; where there wasn’t a history of relating clouding every interaction.

I suffered such guilt! I’d always vowed to care for my parents, but my own weakness and loss had made me incapable of doing that. Relentlessly, and far too slowly, I watched her struggle in her new environment with who she was, where she was, who we were, and the ‘strangers’ wanting to feed and wash her.

It’s about 10 years now since we first realized she was becoming unusually forgetful. She is calmer and has stopped trying to escape in her search for her life. Often I’ll find her in the lounge sitting quietly with the others or taking part in an activity with one of the staff, but she still resists being taken to the toilet or being showered by ‘strangers’. The slow steady dragging down of the illness continues.

I’ve learnt a number of things on this sad journey with my mom;

  1. My own frailty! Her illness has humbled me greatly.

  2. Mom’s illness is her final and greatest gift to me because it’s  forced me to trust God. I can’t fix this. I have to rely on Him and His goodness even when I can’t see it.

  3. God is good and God is still in control. I might not see the reason now, but one day I will know why this happened. In the meantime, He holds both my mother and me in His loving hands. I see evidence for this in the persistent and gentle care of the staff, permanent and voluntary, at Livewell, and the changes for good that I’ve witnessed in my own life.

  4. Lastly, I know that this will end in an eternity of joy for my mother and me. This will pass.

Our parents all die. Few causes of death can be more distressing than Alzheimer’s. But you and I who stand by and watch and care are given the chance to learn acceptance, to love when the object of our love is often un’love’ly, and to trust in the One Who will one day make us whole and perfect.” – Heather Barrow

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Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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