By Anita Harvey
The day I learned the awful truth that my widowed mother has Alzheimer’s, my life became a high-wire act. I tried to balance my personal and professional life while also attending to my mother’s growing needs. During the first years after her diagnosis, I made many mistakes, and for a brief moment, even wished Mother would die before she reached the latter stages of the disease, to spare her the suffering I knew was waiting. I’m ashamed to admit that I explored the darkest corners of my soul as I grappled with feelings of anger, resentment, self-pity, frustration, and fear of the future. It didn’t help to know that Alzheimer’s is an incurable, terminal disease with no known treatment. I had no reason to hope for a cure in my mother’s lifetime. To think that anything good would come from what we were experiencing was unimaginable.
As the years passed, I came to realize that although Alzheimer’s was slowly taking away the mother that I knew, her disease did not diminish my love for her or her value as a human being. My love and respect only grew for my resilient mother as I learned the true depth of her strength and character. She is a fighter, and to this day, will not accept that anything is wrong with her memory (which only complicates my ability to care for her). She fought hard to hide her secret, wanting to live life on her own terms. No matter how difficult she became, I knew I would never abandon her. Instead, I focused on how I could help her live and thrive, rather than simply waiting for her to die. I followed her wherever the disease took her and adapted and changed what I was doing in order to support her. I wish I could say it was easy, but it wasn’t. My relationships with my siblings became strained, I was unproductive at work, and my health suffered. The future seemed anything but bright.
Then something amazing and unexpected happened. With the help of my sister, hired caregivers, and constant oversight, Mother was able to live independently for many years. Despite her illness, she was reasonably happy. Our friends would even comment, “Your mother seems fine. Are you sure she has Alzheimer’s disease?” We would just smile, roll our eyes, and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Watching her flourish eased the sting of our sacrifice. It wasn’t until we were forced to seek help from the healthcare system that things went terribly wrong, and my life’s course was changed once again.
To be continued…
Anita was born in western Washington and has lived in the area her entire life. She is married to an incredibly supportive husband, Lyle. She is a production manager at a local, family owned, company and has been with the same company for over 26 years. She and her husband love and enjoy the beautiful outdoors of the Pacific Northwest. Follow our blog for more of Anita’s story next week.
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