A Nostalgic Journey Through My Mother’s Dementia

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I took a journey through the past today. It wasn’t something I planned when I began my day. It is tax season. My filing cabinets are overflowing with old papers that have nothing to do with taxes or my writing. They were bits and pieces of life thrown into the cabinet and forgotten.

I have been watching Marie Kondo. Was there anything in my filing cabinet that would spark joy or would I find old pieces of paper that meant nothing?

I pulled out a folder. It was the tax information and legal papers I needed back in the early 2000’s when I took care of my mother’s affairs while she was in the nursing home suffering from dementia.

Why did I keep this folder for 16 years? I made the choice to shred all the information in the folder. I did not see a reason to keep them anymore.

Let me give you a little background on my mom and my relationship with her. I was an only child. My dad died in 1971 so it was my mom and I for all those years. We didn’t always get along. I was born when she was in her 40s and we didn’t see eye to eye on life. I didn’t understand her and she didn’t understand me, but she always had my back. Through our tiffs and struggles we both knew we loved each other and we had each other’s back. Until at least, dementia reared its ugly head.

My mother was in her late 80s when I knew something was wrong. She began to accuse me of things I didn’t do and say terrible things about me to other people. She would call other people over and over again. She would try the same pair of shoes on within a short time, not remembering she had just had them on.

All her affairs were in order. I had power of attorney so I could make decisions for her. She made those arrangements when her mind was good. Unfortunately, when dementia set in she tried to give the power of attorney to strangers. To make a long story short I had to go to court and be declared conservator so I could take care of her and make decisions. I had to report everything I did to the courts. And I was fine with that but because of it I had so many papers.

I turned on music from my high school years as I was shredding. I looked at the papers one by one. I found a report I forgot about that was made when my mom reported her car stolen. Luckily our local police chief was used to dealing with my mom and her dementia. I suspect the stolen car report went nowhere because he knew the state took her driver’s license away because of her dangerous driving. I took her car away because she was driving her car after her license was pulled. She reported it stolen.

I do have a funny story about that. I happened to be at our car dealership getting my car fixed when she tried to rent a car. Luckily in a small town they also knew she wasn’t supposed to be driving. She wouldn’t give up. She had friends who felt we were wrong taking her car away, even though her driving and memory was bad. They drove her back and forth 14 times to retake her written driving test. She finally passed. I’m not sure if she really passed or if they were tired of her and passed her knowing she would not pass the physical driving test. She didn’t even last a block before the test person turned her back. But she still insisted she passed the test.

As the shredder ran and the music from good days during my teenage years played, I found myself crying. Silently the tears fell down my cheeks. So many memories of good times when I was young mixed with the time where I didn’t know if I would survive the hurt of what was happening with her dementia in her later years. But here I am 16 years later shredding the past. I survived. The feeling of love for my mom survived.

I think there was a reason I waited so long to shred those final papers. I wasn’t ready to let it all go until now. Letting go of the memories that the papers represented felt as if I were putting the hurt of that time where it belonged— in the past. All of those memories were a part of my journey with my mom.

I was able to smile at her stubbornness of letting go of the independence a car represented and the stolen car report. I marveled at the low cost of health care 16 years ago. I could read her letters of anger and put it in perspective with the disease and not take it personally. Little by little I remembered as the papers moved through the shredder.

Dementia stole the mom I knew, but after she got the care she needed in a stable environment which settled her angry moods, I found a new mom, one who was funny and interesting in the new way she embraced life.

As I put the last paper in the shredder I sat back and listened to my music and remembered how blessed I was even during the final scary years of her life. I knew my mom would never choose to forget me.

Sixteen years later the papers are gone but my memories remain of the good times, the bad times, and the in-between, but now I feel free of the burden that I didn’t do enough. Maybe we should “shred our life” more often.

Have You Found Your Calling?

Depression is real. It is a hopeless feeling that wells up inside of you and takes over rational thought putting fears, doubt, and paranoia inside of you so that you want the pain to stop.

I know, for me, when I feel anxious, sad and overwhelmed, if I keep on the path of those feelings the endless depression will overwhelm me. Occasionally my remedy is going to bed for a day and confronting it. It is the only thing which starts me back on my journey to being able to smile and see the light.

I wasn’t feeling good this weekend and I tried to decipher if it was a real illness, meaning my stomach picked up a bug, or if my feelings of being overwhelmed with responsibility were the cause of my stomach and my tears of sadness.

I turned on meditation music and gave myself permission to wallow in bed. At first thoughts of all the things I needed to do kept churning in my mind. Did I really have to do any of them or was it my expectations that were stealing my peace? As I wandered through my life’s experiences and memories—I’m a firm believer in learning from your past to go forward to your future—I knew what was causing me to be on the edge when it came to expectations this time. I will save that for another time but what did hit me in this day of rest and meditation was the “calling.”

What was my calling? And was that part of my anxiety? We hear the question all the time from our churches, from the media, from friends and from strangers. Self-help gurus, some very good ones, promote all of us to find our calling. And our churches ask us continually “What has God called you to do?”

If I read the news first thing in the morning we have a constant bombardment from the news headlines and almost every headline has the word Trump in it, for or against. Almost every headline has a disaster in it.

My cell phone updates frequently warn about the winter storm warnings or the flood warnings. A plane crashed, kids are hungry and illegal immigrant children are being kept from their parents and mistreated. The Social Media tells us if you’re a Republican you are supposed to be upset or hate Democrats and if are a Democrat you are supposed to be against and hate Republicans.

We feel helpless in the midst of all of this chaos. So not only are we supposed to find our calling we are supposed to find it in the mess we are bombarded with everyday.

There are so many volunteers needed everywhere. I have friends that spend their lives giving and giving and giving. They are busy 24-7. Not only do these people spend their time volunteering, they also have to juggle taking care of their family and spending time with them in the midst of the good things they are doing. Have they found their calling? I often wonder about how they keep up, or do they have to make those difficult choices for society over family? I remember at times being too busy volunteering to have time to help someone in my family.

What about parents who have to run with their children, work a full time job, and still expect or are expected to be the ever present volunteer to make the world better for their kids. Have they found their calling?

I lay in my bed this past weekend pondering these questions. I do think too much. It is hard for me to just be. I pondered these questions because I felt guilty being down and depressed when so many others are spending their time helping others. How do they take care of themselves so they can give back to others?

I know we need to stop hunger, stop global warming, stop sex trafficking, stop gun violence, stop ignoring the elderly and their needs, feed the homeless and the list goes on and on and on. I know we need to raise a next generation that is respectful and responsible. These are all things I know. I read the headlines and the list seems impossible because inside all those headlines we aren’t given any good news.

I don’t know about you—these things bother me because I can’t do anything about any of it—but if I am called to do something as everyone tells me, what am I called to do? It seems when people preach or bellow about our calling they always want to make us think if we aren’t doing something out there for the world to see we are failing. We are drug down to believe rest or being busy is laziness and failure. We have to be on the move all the time. Is this what we are teaching our youngsters? Nothing we ever do is good enough in the eyes of the world.

My sister-in-law, who lived states away, years ago came to visit my mother-in-law who was in a nursing home. After visiting, my sister-in-law came to my home and told me I was called to bring my mother-in-law out of the nursing home into our home and take care of her. I felt guilty because I didn’t want to do that. Was that my call and I was ignoring it? That time I was at a good place in my life and I knew just because we had a responsibility we needed to do or had a responsibility that we could do, didn’t mean that was what I was called to do. We all do things because we need to do them. We all do things because we might be good at it. That doesn’t mean it is our calling. At least I at the time, didn’t feel like that was my calling.

As I took care of me on this lazy weekend day I felt guilty for taking the time to get it together. In reality, if someone would have asked me to do something for them that day I probably would have said yes and put my “me” day on hold. And it would have been because I have been programed to put myself second and so have many people.

The day did me good. I, in my head, know if I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of anyone else. But yet…what is my calling? Should I feel guilty because I don’t know?

What if I said, after my day of rest that I do know what my calling is NOT. I am not called to make another person feel bad. I am not called to use my words in a way that will degenerate another living human being. I am not called to hate. I am not called to judge. I am not called to be cruel.

I don’t know what my calling is. I don’t know if I need one. If I stick to what I know I am not called to do, would that be enough? If all of us did that, would we need all the venues we need today to combat those things?

Perhaps our calling is the gift God gave us when he gave us our magnificent bodies and what we are called to do is to take care of them, and then the rest will all fall into place because we will be peaceful and whole.

Perhaps all we really are called to do is to love one another. Rather than being confused about all the material and societal mores to live up to, we could rest in our journey if we felt love from others, for others, and for ourselves. Wouldn’t the headlines be fun to read each morning? In spite of whatever is happening in our lives whether it showing others who we truly are, weathering storms, the personal and the weather related, love would get us through.