Today`s guest blog comes from Gillian Clelland, about her wonderful mum Jean and her caring experiences. Lets see what Gillian has to say…
When I decided to share the responsibility to care for my mum Jean, who is 85 and has Alzheimer’s with my brother George, I found it both frustrating and rewarding. Sadly, over the last 10 years, mum has lost all memory of much of her life but happily she still seems contented when she sees our cheeky chops. In order to deal with the more difficult times I like to focus on the good experiences as they restock my resilience pockets and inject a dose of positivity. Below I’ll share 5 – I call them ‘kind in mind’ actions that work for me.
1 Remember emotions remain intact
Mum has lost track of all things logical but she responds quite normally to emotions! One day when I was quite overwhelmed with her sun downing behaviour I just burst into tears of despair both for her on the evil aspects of the illness and for me at a loss with how to cope! Mum saw me greetin, she immediately dropped out of her tangled thoughts, came and cuddled me and asked what’s wrong? She tried to console me, stroked my hair and even asked ‘where’s your mammy’ with a child like view that mammies fix things! Her actions wrestled me from my sadness and encouraged me to be positive again and I keep this experience front of mind.
2 Playing Games
We play a lot of games. Balloons is easily the best. It’s a guaranteed distraction technique. So are colouring books and dominos, tho’ it is quite humbling to be gubbed by an 85 year old with such significant cognitive impairment. Jigsaws also work, I’ve gradually been buying younger and younger age groups with extra large pieces so that she can still do most of it by herself! Ravensburger puzzles, aged 5 or 6 are best. Mum will entertain minions, kittens and puppies but says princesses, action heroes and telly tubbies are for the weans!
Remembering to play is really important, I even tried a pillow the fight the other day when I asked mum to help me change the bed. With a little trepidation I dunted her gently with a big soft cloud, not at all sure of how she would react, but she laughed and giggled more than I had seen her laugh in years as she quite lamely tried to fight back! It just melted my heart with happiness to know that she, occasionally, still can share funny moments and give herself a belly rumbling laugh at the same time.
3 Keep cuddling
Just like toddlers, it seems to me that since mum can no longer understand or communicate much, hugs or even simply holding hands is the language of choice. Mum sometimes doesn’t return my cuddle, maybe she’s not sure who she’s hugging at first, but if I squeeze long enough and tight enough then love and smiles usually break through!
4 Choosing kind words
“OH DEAR!” Whatever way you say it, ‘oh dear’ sounds sad!
“OOPS” on the other hand has a slightly surprising mischievous tone.
I try to remember to say ‘oops’ rather than ‘oh dear’ and give my brain a jolt to think positively about the situation I find myself in! It also implies accident rather than fault. Handy when accidents are often caused by someone who can’t help it!
5 Keep smiling
If all else fails sometimes I get serious. I look straight at mum and exclaim… “Mum will you do me a favour?” Usually this gets her attention and she looks at me confused. I say with a grin… “will you give me a big SMILE today?” So far it still works! We get a fleeting connection and share a silly moment in our crazy universe!
A friend once told me that “the word kindness originally meant being kin, or kindred, or of the same kind. And since we are all humankind, we should remember to be kinder to one another. The alternative is to be unkind, eg failing to connect or even alienating someone.”
Now there are eejits in the world that could do with a stern word, but when it comes to supporting a person bearing the burden of dementia, I try to be ‘kind in mind’ ! Carers need to be kind to themselves too. It true that you do give up a lot of yourself to care for someone else but I have found that by cherishing the little magic moments, it gives me strength to keep going. There’s a quote by American writer, Joseph Campbell that sums this up…
“Find a place in life where there is joy and the joy with burn out the pain”
This is my mum, Jean, smiling!