30: We Are a Family

30: We Are a Family

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

We Are a Family

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

~Jane Howard

Choosing between a skilled care facility and caring for a loved one at home is a difficult, and personal, decision. There are pros and cons no matter which choice you make. And there will always be someone around to let you know you made the wrong one.

I made the decision to put my mother into the care of professionals who are trained to handle the complexities of Alzheimer’s disease. Did I have doubts about my decision? Almost every day. Did I think I could do a better job? Sometimes. Did I know that she was in a good place? Always. I knew she was safe, well fed, and well cared for. Those were the most important parts of the decision.

But what came as a surprise was the extended family I gained — the staff, other residents, and their families.

The observant staff can tell when I need a hug, or a few minutes of real conversation unrelated to Alzheimer’s. And they’re there when I need a shoulder to cry on.

The residents brighten my day by greeting me with big smiles and waves. I know they are happy to see me and I’m thrilled that my visit to my mother can bring so much joy to so many others. But I think I’m actually the lucky one, since my day just got better because they are all so happy to see me.

One resident always offers me a cup of coffee, having “just made a fresh pot.” Another always asks if I would like a ham sandwich. If I am there at dinnertime, another asks if I would like something to eat, because she “made plenty.”

All the visiting families bond, share stories, and help each other through the tougher days. We are there to share and support one another whenever needed, especially as a loved one’s days draw to an end.

One family member still visits regularly, even though her mother passed away quite some time ago. Her visits are a gift to everyone. She made a huge impact on me one particularly difficult day when she got my mother to sing with her. “You Are My Sunshine” had been Mom’s “go to” song in recent years, calming her down or bringing her out of a deep empty space. During the early days of her final stage of Alzheimer’s, the dark unresponsive days were the hardest. I couldn’t reach her. But when our newest family member came in and said, “Virginia, I want you to sing with me,” Mom opened her eyes, smiled and sang “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” She sang every word to all the verses.

There is no timeline to this disease. My mother has been in the final stage for more than a year now. I have witnessed others who have gone much more quickly, as well as those who seem to just keep moving forward at their own pace. Still able to play games, and do group activities. Still able to recognize me as a friend or an extended family member.

My mother’s roommate lets me know what Mom has or hasn’t done since my previous visit. She lets me know who has visited. And I have gotten to know most of her children. When our mothers are sleeping, we share stories. One of the daughters lives in Wyoming, and I see and talk to her more than I do members of my own family!

Choosing a skilled care facility can be a difficult decision, but it can also be heartwarming and rewarding, too. My new extended family truly understands what each of us is going through… together.

~Carolyn Mers

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