My whole life I knew someday my mom would get sick and I knew that when that day came I would be the one to take care of her. As a kid, I imagined us living next door to each other in matching mansions. I would invite her over to have dinner with my spouse and four kids. I would be able to afford an in-house nurse to take care of her when she needed the extra help.
Late last year, that day came: my mother was diagnosed with dementia. In that moment of panic, I started researching how I could improve her chances of living longer. I sat in front of my laptop late at night and googled everything about her illness and what I could do to fix it.
“Does olive oil help with dementia?” (Yes, because research has found that powerful antioxidants in olive oil help delay dementia in mice.)
“What berries help with dementia?” (Antioxidants found in blueberries can help improve memory and cognitive function.)
“Can it be reversed?” (No, there is no cure but there’s treatment that can temporarily improve symptoms.)
“How many years can someone live with dementia?” (The biggest number feels small and the smallest number feels too close to zero.)
On my worst days, nighttime is my enemy. I think about the number of days I may have left with her. I struggle to comprehend what my purpose in this world would be without her in it.
Being a caregiver to a parent is a very complex relationship. I have to make sure my mom is safe while also respecting our mother-daughter dynamic. I have to let her be independent, but also be realistic about things she can’t do. We argue over what food she can and can’t eat. She tries to walk around without her walker. She doesn’t like to take her blood sugar. Sometimes it feels like I’m raising a stubborn teenager.
My mom’s dementia gets worse when her diet isn’t good. She can improve her chances of living longer if she keeps her blood sugar low. I found all of the vitamins she needed to take. I researched almost everything she wanted to eat. However , she is still an adult with her own mobility, and I can’t make her eat healthy food or force her to care about her blood sugar. If my mom is going to raise her chances of living longer, she has to want to do it on her own volition.
Parenting a parent comes with a lot of guilt some days. I mostly feel guilty that I didn’t notice her dementia sooner. My mom had a stroke two years ago and none of us knew. I wonder, maybe, if I was less focused on my college friends and crushes, I would have known that my mom needed me. I struggle with the guilt I have from not realizing that her forgetfulness and difficulty moving were signs of her getting sick. On my worst days, I’m stuck between feeling guilt about the way I acted in the past and what my life looks like without her. On those days, I feel imprisoned and scared to move in any direction. Those nights, I can’t sleep because I wonder if she’ll be there when I wake up.
Truthfully, I’m in the same situation that all of us are in. Some day our parents will die. We imagine it happening when we are older with a spouse and our own family, some time when we’re fully established in the world. Our parents gave us life and at some point we have to make it our own. It’s hard to imagine them leaving our lives before that point. However, it could happen at any moment, and most of the time, Google isn’t going to be able to tell us why.
That’s my favorite part of being a caregiver. I spend almost every day with my mom. I wake her up at 8am and immediately start preparing her breakfast. Her favorite is watermelon and she hates eggs. In her free time, she plays puzzles. She loves singing and dancing along to Glee. She loves stupid horror movies. She’s the funniest, kindest, and warmest person I have ever met. I am lucky to have her as my mom.
I don’t know how I will move on when my mom is gone. A part of me feels I won't move on from losing her. A part of me will be rethinking these little memories I’m making with her, rethinking the little laughs that we share together. I still feel stuck between the past and future. I am working towards forgiving myself while also working on creating a safety net for my future grief. I hope to make friendships that I can count on in my dark days. I’m working toward creating an environment for myself that allows me to feel every stage of grief, including all of the stages that are still unknown to me.
But today, I just want to enjoy hearing the sound of her unbelievably loud laughter.