Thursday, October 9, 2008

Love stronger than dementia

Caring for a loved one

I had always admired those who gave up so much to care for a loved one at home, especially with little or no support. And those who visited their loved one every single day once full-time nursing care was needed. I got to know their problems more intimately when my mother, who had come to spend the rest of her life with us — hopefully in happiness and contentment — gradually succumbed to a type of dementia that caused depression and paranoia.
She was in her late eighties and I was not surprised that she would forget things occasionally, but we soon realised it was more than that. She became quite aggressive if we did not accept her false or confused statements. I realised something was seriously wrong when, after a friend had left the house, she told me that her visitor was a spy and had been taking notes.
I helped her to dress in the morning: apart from being severely arthritic and needing a helping hand, left to herself she would empty the wardrobe, complain she had nothing to wear and give me too much hassle.
‘No blouses, Mother? Look — one two, three…’ and I would count all the way to fifteen. But not one would be acceptable. To get things moving, I would sometimes make a trip upstairs to my closet, choose one of my best blouses and run downstairs again. I would find her pulling out the rest of her clothes from her wardrobe.
‘No good,’ she would say to my offering. ‘It doesn’t match my skirt.’
Well, it was good to know she still had good taste, but it would be some time before she was finally dressed for a little trip in my car.
’Where’s my walking stick?’
She refused to acknowledge either of her two walking sticks and so I bought her another one and wrote her name on it.
Of course she would not use it. Apparently, the chap next door had stolen Mother’s walking stick. Next-door being the ’Woolpack Inn’ in Emmerdale! (As in the television programme, which she watched avidly.)
I then began to notice how she appeared to live inside the television, instead of merely watching it. She was with the actors, not with us. When a consultant came to assess her, the television took on a new role: it was watching and recording her movements – spying!
Her paranoia deepened. Her carer was in tears when I arrived home. My mother had poured her cups of tea down the plughole saying she was being poisoned.
Then her depression deepened and we had to watch her very carefully. I found her with her tights tied tightly around her throat. Then I found her looking for knives to cut her wrists.
I tried to reach inside her mind to let her know that we loved her but she was unable to receive either my words or my prayers.
‘Hypocrite! Hypocrite!’ she would scream.
At other times she would yell that she was going to burn in hell and me with her.
No longer able to recognise me, she tried to drag me out of my study saying I did not belong there. ‘Gladys will be angry!’
Unable to control me, she went to the front door and yelled for the police.
I had to make sure all doors were locked and the way upstairs gated — a fall was not what I wanted. There was little sleep at night: I caught her tugging at electricity wires because she was convinced the boiler was about to explode. I heard a crash one night and ran downstairs to find her half-naked in the hall, and broken glass scattered over the kitchen floor.
The doctor gave me sleeping tablets for her but it was impossible to get her to take them. Finally, she did have a fall requiring pinning of a fractured femur close to her hip. She did not appear to be in physical pain, her mind was worrying that ‘all’ would be revealed that night on television.
‘You’ll never forgive me,’ she said, ‘I told them you did that abortion, and that our Janet had been caught shoplifting, and Bill had stolen the Kohinoor and ruined America.’
I was in despair. How did such dreadful things enter and torment her mind? She even told the hospital doctor that she was going to be on television, and he believed her!
The torment went on unabated when she entered a nursing home. The few coins in her purse she said were counterfeit, and she was going to be punished. She would not let me take them off her hands; she had it in her head that she had to go to prison. Incarceration, punishment and hell were constant themes.
My heart was bleeding for the mother I loved but whom I could not help in her dreadful ordeal. I knew hell and damnation were part of her upbringing in the mining town of Alfreton. School lessons were reinforced at home: it was part of the culture when she was a young child at the beginning of the twentieth century.
I remembered my mother raising her hand at an evangelical service I had taken her to many years before. The preacher had felt called to pray for anyone seeking forgiveness and salvation in the name of Christ. While eyes were closed, hands could be raised. Afterwards folk protested because such things had long been dispensed with at their chapel. But I had felt her arm move upwards: surely the Holy Spirit was indeed working in that place, and yet…
Release came for her soon after Christmas in the year 1991. I knew she had been feeling poorly and I stayed with her after she had been put to bed. I always visited her every day and on each occasion would hold her hand. Maybe she did not know who I was but that did not matter: I had always hoped and prayed for a connection of spirit with spirit. I believe in the power of God-given love to heal the broken-hearted.
It was getting late and I was very tired. It had been a harrowing time for me in my church ministry and, along with my other duties, I still had a funeral to prepare for — my fifth in four weeks. My mother appeared to be asleep. I kissed her forehead and quietly whispered, ‘I have to get some sleep now. I’ll be back tomorrow. Goodnight, Mother.’
Her eyes remained closed but her lips opened.
‘Goodnight, Luvvy.’
Luvvy, was the name she called me before her illness. My eyes were wet with tears of joy!

Luvvy was the last word she was to speak. She died the following morning.


jothiek said...

This story has brought tears to my eyes. How so touching!

It's sad that the beautiful things in life have to be crippled by the ugly realities. It's sad when loved ones have to suffer, and life becomes seemingly unfair.

But in times such as these, there is comfort in knowing that God is keeping watch. There is comfort in knowing that God will never leave us alone. He never does. We only have to wait.

The memory of a beautiful past is cherished in our hearts and we relive it in our minds. But we go on, for life goes on...

Take care!

Gladys Hobson said...

You are so right.
You would have liked my mother. She was incredibly hard working throughout her lifetime. But she had a sense of fun and that, plus loving-kindness, kept her going when times were tough. No she did not deserve her last struggle with nightmare dementia, just as my brother did not deserve the incredible pain of his last months on earth, after so much previous suffering, but here I can refer to my poem (which I think I put on this blog), called "I stood by the gate" where in that unearthly moment all things were put in the perspective of the timelessness of eternity.