“Your mom is so strong.” These were the words I often heard people say to describe my mom. I never really understood what they meant while I was growing up, being the youngest of six children. Why was my mom this strong person everyone kept referring to?
Well, by the time she was 25, she was a pretty young mom by today’s standards, with four children: my brothers Keith in 1955 and Kevin in 1956, and my twin sisters Donna and Diane in 1957. Since my dad travelled for work, my mom held the fort at home, raising my siblings by herself. I think this defines being “strong.”
Then along comes Pammie, in 1961. She was the sister I never knew—I came along in 1963, and she passed away from leukemia at the tender age of four. Losing Pammie was hard for my mom, but she kept moving forward with her young family. Doing so helped her to cope with the loss of one of her precious children. This too, I think, defines being “strong.”
Fast forward to the seventies, and Diane is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 20. Over the next 17 years, my mom was Diane’s caregiver, helping her fight this disease for as long as she physically could, until Diane passed away at the age of 37. How my mom was always there for Diane is another way to define her being “strong.”
Throughout these years, I’ve noticed how my mom was always there to take care of the most precious gift she has—her family. She took care of Pammie and Diane. She took care of both her father and her husband, who both had cancer. She took care of her mom, who had Alzheimer’s. She’s been the caregiver to so many people while being a cancer survivor herself.
Watching my mom in action, taking care of the people closest to her, I could do nothing but admire her strength. And she did it with such patience, love and understanding, too. This is what people meant when they said those words.
Now that my mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s time for us (my brother Keith and I) to take care of her. As the Alzheimer’s progresses—slowly, and I am grateful for that—I’ve learned to live with this disease on a daily basis. Still, we make sure to constantly adjust our routine and lifestyle to help her live with the disease.
My husband and I are still raising a family. When my mom came to live with us six years ago, she did not have Alzheimer’s. My husband, my children and I have seen her change. There are days when she’s confused and unsure of who we are. Even in those moments, though, we are familiar to her on some level. For now, these lapses in memory are usually brief. As the disease progresses, we will continue to adjust to fit her needs until we no longer can.
I am grateful that my mom is still very mobile and can get around the house on her own. Sometimes, she needs some prompting to take care of some of her personal needs, and we have personal care workers that help us twice a week. This keeps us moving forward while allowing her to live with us and see her grandchildren grow.
My mom follows a daily routine that we know is so important for people living with dementia. Six days a week, she visits the Alzheimer Society of York Region’s D.A.Y. Centre in Aurora. She attends the program daily without hesitation, engaging her brain socially and emotionally. When she comes home, she joins in on our family’s evening routine. Once again, she feels engaged, socially and emotionally, through her family!
I can only hope that I’m doing as good a job as she did. That’s not to say we don’t have our ups and downs—we have our moments of laughter, tears, frustration and anxiety. However, I will always remember to apply the lessons I’ve learned from my mom: to keep moving forward, and to be there for your family.
I think that the “strength” that people spoke of when describing my mom is the same strength that keeps her going at the age of 86. I’m grateful that she’s living with me and can very much be a part of our family!
Mom, Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for the valuable lessons you’ve taught me, and perhaps one day I will be as “strong” as you!
If you’re caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, contact your local Alzheimer Society today. We can help.