Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Lessons

An intense feeling of deep affection: "their love for their country".
Feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone): "do you love me?".
noun.  affection - fondness - darling – passion verb.  like - be fond of - fancy - adore


A quick Google search gives me the above definition of love. Seems simple, right? We can love just about anything or anyone. We “love” chocolate. We “love” our teams. We “love” our families. We are “in love” with our husband/wife/partner. There are many levels to that love, as well. I know that I certainly love my husband exponentially more than I love gummy bears. Now, as a caregiver, I believe I have found another level of love, one that perhaps only another caregiver can understand. Since I have become a caregiver, my love for my mom has reached an entirely different level.

Growing up I always loved my mom. What that meant depended on the very minute. You know what I mean. I had a great relationship with my mom and I ALWAYS loved her- even when she insisted that I clean my room or do my homework before I went to someone's house. As we both grew older, the nature of our love changed. She became even more of a friend to me. She lived nearby, and we saw each other quite often. We would go shopping, she would help watch the kids, and she would listen when I needed her to listen.  She was my beloved mother.  She was my gentle, kind, loving, empathetic friend.

As the years passed and she developed dementia, and then Alzheimer's, our relationship deepened even more. She had to admit her defeats and ask for help. I became her assistant of sorts. I had to drive her around, do her bills, help with shopping. Yet with every new duty I took on, I also had to understand that my mom was losing one more aspect of her independence. This was heart wrenching on both sides. I remember the day that she told me that she was going to need help with her bills. I can still feel the sadness and sense of defeat that she felt. How brave she was to openly admit that she needed me more than she wanted to admit. It was just one more link in the chain, the chain that she was dragging around, that chain called Alzheimer's.

The chain's weight grew and continues to grow heavier, sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly. As that chain grows heavier, so do my caretaker burdens. By burdens I really mean responsibilities. I will never, and I mean never, define my mother as a burden. Trust me, there have been times when I wanted to throw my hands up and say, “Forget it! This is too much for me to bear!” But I couldn't. My heart would never let me. Truthfully, I rarely think of labeling myself as a caretaker, even though that is what I have become. She is my mom and I am her daughter, no matter the role reversal.

When people hear my story about my mother - how I take care of her, the deep pain and sadness that I have to endure every single day, they almost always say, “I can't imagine that. I am not sure that I could do what you are doing for your mom.” My immediate thought in my head is, “Are you serious? How could you not?”, because in my heart it was never a consideration whether I would help my mom. It just was. I knew no other way. My heart, my mind, my soul knew no other way. For I love my mom no matter what. I loved her when she sang to me as a child. I loved her when she made me clean my room. I loved her when we made gingerbread cookies at Christmas. I loved her when she needed me to drive her to the store. I loved her as things didn't make sense to her and she would cry to me. And I love her now, even when she doesn't know who I am.

My love for my mom is truly unconditional. All the hurt, the pain, the continual grieving that I  endure on a daily basis can never take the place of my love for her. Even in these past years when it has been me, the daughter, helping her, the mother, she continually teaches me lessons - lessons of patience, kindness, and understanding.  And she has most certainly taught me a huge lesson in love.

*As originally seen in the February Alzheimer's Association of Greater Indiana ENews

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