Good Morning and Happy New Year! Sorry I’ve been away for so long, many big life events took place last year which really consumed my time and energy and altered my life journey. But I’m making my way back.
Edits are moving ahead for Shawn’s Way. Looking at publishing early this summer. I’m in the process of revamping the website. I made contact with someone in my neighborhood who is going to help me with it. Look for updates and announcements coming soon.
One of my life events last year was helping my dad through his dementia journey. He’s living in an assisted living/memory care facility. The challenge I encountered is the amount of time and energy it takes to help our aging parents through their lives when and illness stops them from leading lives on their own. I friend of mine wrote a story about her journey. It is a writing prompt from the Facebook writing group called Writers Unite! Reading her story has made me think about what affects dementia has had on my own life journey.
The January writing prompt came with this picture. If you take on the Write the Story challenge, you are to look at the picture and write a 3000 word or less story or poem about how that picture inspires you.
This is what my friend Sharon came up with when she took on the challenge.
A friend’s journey with dementia
By Sharon L. McAleer
“I’m so happy that you came,” Cathy Newman said to her sister Betsy Stevens as they were driving to the airport.
“I almost didn’t come.”
“Why?” Cathy asked and turned towards her sister in the passenger seat.
“I was afraid of losing myself while caring for mom.”
The soft hum of the car tires on the road could be heard during the break in the conversation.
“I understand. Taking care of mom can be time consuming and emotionally demanding. What changed your mind?”
“A talk I had with my best friend Janet. She even published a short story about it in a women’s self-care journal. Would you like me to read it to you? She sent me a copy.”
“I would love to hear it. We have plenty of time before your flight.”
Janet Crewston had a lot on her plate between changing jobs, moving her family into their new home and directing her father’s care with his assisted living facility. Along with her family, writing was her passion. Lately, her creativity just wasn’t working for her, so she thought a change of scenery would help get her writing groove back. She decided to escape to their family cabin on Lake Poltion for a few days while her husband kept and eye on their children.
It was late winter heading towards spring and Janet could feel the air gradually getting a little warmer each day when she went to take her daily walks in the woods. There was a lot less activity at the lake this time of year and she thought that may help get things done. She was struggling with the final edits of her second novel. She thought editing this one would be easier than the first, but it was proving not to be the case. Maybe it was a tougher subject for her to write about, but Janet felt it had more to do with where she was in her life at the moment.
After working on her manuscript all morning, Janet got up from the desk to find the mug. It was the one her dad gave to her when she first started writing short stories after college. She was known to walk around the room when she was brainstorming and that mug got set down in some very unique places at her house and here. As she continued to check all of the usual spots, she heard a knock at the door. She shook her head knowing it would eventually show up and walked towards the door. When she opened it, a woman of shorter stature and long brown hair stood there wearing a purple ski jacket and a matching knitted hat. She was holding two cups of coffee from Cabin Brews, the only coffee shop in town.
“Hello Janet? How’s the writing coming?” Betsy asked.
Betsy Stevens and her family lived at the lake for a few years before Janet’s family moved in. Their cabin was the fifth one down the shore from Janet’s.
“Pretty good. I finally made it through all of the edits and the revisions are done in the manuscript. Now I need to do one more complete read through to make sure it all makes sense. What do you have here?” She asked and pointed at the brown paper cups in her friend’s hands.
“A little treat from Cabin Brews.” Betsy replied and handed her one of the cups. “Your favorite chai tea latte.”
“Thank you, Betsy. I was just getting ready to make some but couldn’t find my cup.”
“Did it get misplaced during one of your brainstorming sessions again?” Betsy asked, smiling at her friend.
“Yes. You know me too well. But it’ll show up. Isn’t like it walked off someplace.”
Both women chuckled.
“Do you have a little time to chat? I don’t want to interrupt you if you are in a writing groove.”
“Sure, I always have time for you. Come in and have a seat.”
Both women walked over to an oval oak table that separated the kitchen from the living room. Betsy took off her coat and hung it on the back of the chair before she sat down. Janet took a seat in the chair next to her.
“What’s on your mind?”
“I received an email from my sister Cathy today. She wants me to come back to Maine and help with my mom’s care. She says it’s too much for her to do by herself.”
“How’s your mom doing?”
“She’s about the same. The dementia seems to be holding thanks to the medication.”
“Caring for a parent is a pretty big commitment. You know I’m having issues with my brother who doesn’t want to help out.”
“I know. But I don’t know if I can just take off and go to Maine. With Adam and the boys, I’m pretty busy here.”
“Have you talked to Adam about it?”
“Yes. He says I should go for a month or so and help out. We talked to his mom and she mentioned she could help out with the boys if needed. Adam said I may regret it if I don’t spend the time with my mom now. While she can still interact with me.”
“As our parents are getting older and have more health-related issues, it’s hard to know when they may be too sick to remember who we are or pass away. I agree with Adam and I’m sure Cathy would love to have your help.”
“I know. It all sounds good for everyone else. But what if I’m just not into it?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I just don’t want to be a part of it? What if I feel good about the time I’ve spent with my mom already? What if I don’t want to take care of her?”
“Well,” Janet replied. “I’m not sure what to say. I thought you would want to be with your mom.”
“I love her and all, but I’m not sure I want to take care of her.”
“She took care of you.”
“I know Janet, but,” she hesitated and took a sip of her coffee. “No one really understands. I just don’t want to do it.”
“You gotta have a reason. Are you afraid to do it? Did your mom make you mad about something?”
“No, it isn’t anything like that. I just want to do my own thing and not have to take care of anyone else’s stuff. Is that wrong of me to want it that way?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“I’ve just seen how much it takes for someone to do it. I have friends who are exhausted when they have to do all of their stuff and take care of an aging parent too. Cathy has even vented to me that with taking care of mom, she has lost herself in all that she has to do for everyone else.”
Janet thought about her own situation. She realized she was in the same boat. Doing everything else before her own priorities was probably one big reason why writing wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.
“How are things with your dad?” Betsy asked as she got up and grabbed a package of cookies from the kitchen counter and sat back down again.
“They are good. Just trying to stay on top of his house repairs and expenses.”
“Are you still planning on selling it?”
“Sam and I are happy in our house and my brother can’t afford to live there.”
“Has he found a job yet?”
“He’s living with his friend in Masonville. I’m not sure if he is working or not. I haven’t heard from him.”
“Doesn’t he call to check in on your dad?”
“I don’t understand him.”
“Well, not to be harping on you, but you’re thinking about not helping your sister with your mom’s care. Kind of like what my brother is doing to me.”
“At least I check in to see how she’s doing. And I do talk to my mom once a week,” Betsy replied, sitting back in her chair with her arms folded across her chest.
Sometimes Janet wished she had help from her brother, but figured he would just be more in the way of her handling their dad’s affairs if he were around.
“Were you planning on going out snowshoeing today? It’s the perfect day for it.” Betsy asked in an attempt to change the subject.
“You’re right. It’s a good day for it. And it would be a great break from my writing. Would you like to go with me?”
“Only if you want the company.”
“I could always use your company,” Janet responded and walked over behind her friend’s chair and hugged her from behind. Betsy smiled as she snuggled into the hug.
“OK.” Betsy said as she exhaled a deep breath. Janet could see Betsy relax a bit. “Can we walk over to the field and see if the foxes are out there?”
“I checked it out a couple of days ago. It looked like they were setting up their den. The mom is probably pregnant with the cubs coming soon, but we can take a look. Let me change clothes and we’ll get the snowshoes from the shed.” Janet said, as she was walking from the table into one of the bunk rooms. “Can you make sure we have cocoa and marshmallows in the pantry? It will be the perfect thing to warm us up when we get back.”
“Sure,” Betsy replied.
She got up and walked over towards the pantry. After checking for the supplies for cocoa, she looked through the window and saw Janet’s writing mug sitting in the sill.
“Hey Janet!” Betsy called out.
“I see you left your mug in the window.”
Janet walked into the room as she was pulling her green knit hat onto her head and saw Betsy pointing at her mug.
“Oh, there you are.” Janet responded and walked towards the window, but stopped about three feet before she got there. “Do you see how the shadows are playing off of the cup? That’s one of the things about winter. The sky can get so grey, but it is still pretty light outside.”
“The sun is playing behind those clouds and lighting things up.”
“Nature is an amazing thing. Let’s go outside and get some fresh air.”
Leaving the mug on the sill, they walked out of the cabin and into the shed They put on snow shoes and started walking down the snow-covered dirt road heading into the woods. Janet filled her lungs with deep breaths of fresh cold air. She remembered walking on these paths with her dad when she was a kid. Janet smiled as she remembered watching her dad fixing things on the cabin, before his dementia started setting in. Then a memory of Betsy’s mom came to mind.
“Do you remember when your mom was helping my mom with her hair before my dad took her to The White Pine for their fiftieth anniversary? They were both giggling like two girls getting ready for prom. My mom shared that memory with me many times before she died.”
“Yeah. And my dad remembers that day as being one of the happiest days my mom had after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
“We watched them from the pontoon on the lake,” Betsy replied, walking behind Janet. “And thought they were acting weird.”
“Because we couldn’t figure out what was so funny.”
“Now I know what it was. They just let themselves enjoy each other. Two friends just like us. You know what Janet?”
“I miss my mom.”
“I’m sure you do. It has to be hard for you to be here and her in Maine.”
“It’s more than that. Ever since her dementia started, it has been hard for me to interact with her on the phone. I’m not feeling our bond like I once did.”
“My interactions with my dad are the same way. I try to share with him what we are doing and what the boys are doing. He just kind of smiles at me but I know his mind is messing with our time and making it hard for us to communicate.”
Janet stopped and turned to look back at her friend. Betsy was smiling with tears in her eyes.
“Janet, I need to go to Maine and be with my mom. I need our time and those special moments to hold in my heart.”
“Those moments are not only important to you; they will also be important for her. It will help her to feel you there for physical and emotional support while she is on her scary journey. I think about my visits with my dad. Sometimes I feel like I did more harm than good and sometimes I feel like we had a great visit. But it’s more about being there for them, like they were there for us growing up.”
Janet felt Betsy’s wet cheek against hers as she gave her a hug. She felt Betsy’s weight as she relaxed in her arms, relying on Janet for comfort.
“What happens if I lose myself in the process?” Betsy asked.
“You just roll with it when you see her.” Janet replied. “You don’t know how she will feel and you don’t know how you’ll react. Each day can be very different. Just let yourself be in the moment with her. And be sure to take time out for you.”
Betsy let go of the embrace and took a step back from her friend. She smiled and wiped her face with the back of her multi-colored striped mitten.
“Let’s go and see the foxes, if they are there.”
“OK.” Janet replied.
The friends smiled at each other and turned around on the path in the woods and Betsy led the way as they headed towards a clearing. There was a small hill on one side of the field where the woods started up again.
After a few steps Betsy stopped and turned back to look at Janet. She waved to Janet to come closer and held her pointer finger up to her lips, motioning her to be quiet. Janet approached slowly and quietly and put her hand on her friend’s shoulder with a smile as they watched the mother fox coming out of the hole the foxes had set up for their den.
“Looks like they will be living in the same place as last year. We’ll have to check in again later in the spring to see if they have had their cubs yet.”
After a few moments of watching the fox, Janet tapped her friend on the shoulder and motioned for Betsy to follow. Betsy walked back on the path towards the woods and took one more look at the den and continued to follow her friend. As they started across the road leading to the cabins, Betsy said.
“Thank you for listening Janet.”
“I’ll call Cathy today and see when she needs me.”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear from you.”
“Why didn’t I want to help my mom?”
“You had a valid concern. Giving yourself and time up for others isn’t the easiest thing for some people to do.”
“But, she’s my mom.”
“Some people are built to be there emotionally for others. Some people have a harder time with it. Your mom will love having you there in whatever way you are able to.”
“Thank you, Janet.” She said as they arrived at the door of Janet’s cabin.
“Do you want to come in for a cup of cocoa?” Janet asked.
“No thanks. I’m going to go and call my sister. Can I have a rain check?”
“Sure. I understand.”
Betsy gave her friend a big hug. After taking a few steps, she turned around and gave her a smile. Janet waved to her and walked into her cabin. She went to the window and picked up her special mug. She held it in her hands for a minute and remembered her dad. That mug was more than something to drink cocoa out of. It was a symbol of inspiration and support from her dad.
She made her cocoa and added mini marshmallows, the way her mom had always made it for her as a kid. Then she sat in the big comfy chair and stared out at the frozen lake. She thought about how tough it was for her to take care of her dad with everything she had going on in her own life. She had never been afraid of losing herself in the process, the fear that Betsy had, but had felt it happen to her more than once. The dementia may be taking her dad away little by little, but for now he’s still here with her and her family. She was grateful to be there for him on what must be a scary end of life journey.
After setting her mug in the sink, she went back to her desk to journal about her day to clear her mind and help her get ready to read her manuscript.
Betsy just finished reading the story when the women pulled up to the airplane terminal.
“Thank you for sharing that with me Cathy. I didn’t know you felt that way about caring for mom.”
“It was my initial reaction to it. I’m so glad I came out to spend time with my mom and my sister.”
Both women got out of the car. Cathy grabbed Betsy’s bag out of the trunk and came around to the passenger side.
“It was so good to see you.” Cathy said and reached out to hug her sister.
“It was good to be here.”
“Are you coming back soon?”
“Yes, I will”