I have periodically taken a chapter from Susan McCurry’s book, When A Family Member Has Dementia, and broken it down into several day’s reading in deference to our time.
The chapter, ACCEPTING YOURSELF: IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO GET BACK ON TRACK, is too important not to share. What I most like about Susan’s book is she tells real stories about real people. She then talks about how their situation can be applied to the loved one with dementia. It is what I do with my writings in I Forgive, You Forget. Learning from as many different people in as many different circumstances as possible is, in my opinion, the most beneficial.
Susan McCurry writes:
Resilient caregivers can reflect on past experiences in ways that leads to new understanding and new responses to a situation. Madge is a good example. Madge was a recovering alcoholic. With the help of Alcoholic Anonymous, she had quit drinking twenty years ago. Madge had many AA friends and felt that the organization had given her not only sobriety but also a way of approaching life that had made her a happier person and a better human being. I met Madge at a clinic where her husband was being treated for depression and agitation related to his Alzheimer’s disease. In our first interview, Madge radiated peace despite her worry about her husband’s situation. She attributed her ability to keep things in perspective to her years of following the AA philosophy: “jLiving one day at a time, taking things as they are – not as I want them to be, balancing care of myself with care of others, and accepting the things I cannot change.”
Madge knew that as long as she was doing the best she could in caring for her husband, it was not necessary for her to handle every situation perfectly. In the grand scheme, things would turn out all right.
Over the years, I periodically saw Madge and her husband at the clinic. Even as her husband’s symptoms progressed, leading to his institutionalization and eventual death, Madge continued to lean on her AA experiences and philosophy to help her negotiate the many difficult decisions she had to make. Each time Madge left my office, I felt like I should be paying her rather than the other way around. This is not to say Madge had an easy time of it. She was frequently perplexed about what to do in a given situation worried about how she would manage her husband’s latest functional loss, and saddened and exhausted by it all. Yet, somehow, at her core was an abiding sense that “everything would turn out all right.”
Unlike Madge, I am not a recovering alcoholic, but I was the spouse of one who eventually died of alcoholism. Being on the receiving end of a situation like that, gave way to programs, support groups, and classes available to family members, spouses, etc., to learn skills in how to respond in such a devastating existence. My biggest take-away was to finally let go of the 17 plates I was juggling and let them just crash to the ground. Just like Alzheimer’s, I couldn’t fix alcoholism. I could only begin to learn to take better care of myself.
What Is True For Me: In the thirteen years that alcoholism was front and center in my life, I eventually applied those experience(s) to caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s. In all honesty, however, I forgot just about everything when I initially went from one frying pan (alcoholism) into another (Alzheimer’s). Eventually I realized the parallels between the two, which were, mainly, how to let go, do my best, maintain balance and know that ‘everything would turn out all right,’ just like Madge’s mantra.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, my experiences of living life with an alcoholic made me acutely aware of how to care for Mom. It had given me a set of skills to at least begin navigating through the maze of caregiving. I wasn’t aware enough to find the parallels of my own response because I was on overwhelm and in the knee-jerk response mode. I did, however, know enough to go out and find the information I needed to help me, i.e., classes, support group, books and programs associated with Alzheimer’s.
Keep going. I promise you will make it. Take Susan McCurry’s advice and “take each day to start over, because it is never too late to get back on track.”