Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
There was a big, white dog that lived in my Mom's room for several months. I never had to feed it, never had to walk it, never heard it bark. In fact, I couldn't even see the dog. But Mom could. Many mornings I walked into her room to get her up, and she would tell me about the big, white dog. I told her there wasn't a dog in her room, but she would say, “Yes, there is. I see it.” After a while I stopped arguing with her.
Mom had her first serious stroke in May 2014. I think she'd had some small ones over the years, because she would lose certain abilities, often from one day to the next. But with the stroke in May, she lost her ability to feed herself, to stand on her own, and some ability to communicate. As the year went on the losses continued to grow.
She had other hallucinations, even before her stroke. They usually occurred when she was running a fever or fighting a UTI. Human instinct is to try to clear up the delusions. Some of the things she told me I thought might have been dreams that she thought were real. I tried to tell her that, but there was no convincing her otherwise. I found that the best thing to do was to change the subject. There was a lot of changing the subject after Mom's stroke.
Mom didn't always respond to us when we talked to her, but as we waited while she sat on the potty, I would talk to the family member who was helping me that day, and she listened. We knew she listened, because every now and then she would say something that was right on topic. Often if we were talking about needing to pick peas or beans or tomorrow, she would say, “I'll help you.” And we knew that if she were physically able, she would have.
That was probably the most difficult thing about Mom's illness. She was a hard worker. She loved to cook and garden and grow her flowers. I've taken over all of those hobbies. Working in the yard and garden during her illness was my therapy. I've also become the pie baker in the family, so when I get a craving, one or more of the other households reaps the benefits.
Mom lost most of her ability to express emotion with her stroke. It was months before she laughed, and the source of her amusement was her great-granddaughter. Nothing could brighten Mom up like a visit from McKayla, who was 1 ½ - 2 ½ years old during mom's illness. She came with her mom nearly every morning to help get grandma out of bed. She loved to push the button to lower the bed and learned to pull the blankets back. She knew the routine, and woe to us if we tried to depart from it. McKayla also learned that I usually had “lots” in the house. That was her word for chocolate, and she rarely left the house without asking for lots.
My favorite memories are the glimpses I got of the mom I knew before the stroke. When the children from church came at Christmas to sing carols, Mom sang with them! On another evening we had just put her to bed, and I was talking to my sister-in-law about making chili for supper. Mary Ann commented that my brother Ron didn't like it. I was surprised – I know mom made it often as I was growing up. So I asked mom, “Didn't Ron eat chili when you made it?” She said, “Sure, he did.” And it was her clear, lucid voice talking.
One other night after she was in bed I was looking for a band-aid. I couldn't find any in the bathroom, and knew there were some in her room, so I slipped in. When I saw she was awake I told her I needed to get a bandage for my thumb. She said, “What's wrong with it?” Again as clear as a bell. I told her I had a paper cut. She said, “Oh, that gets sore.” As the 11 months of her illness went on those moments became few and far between.
And the white dog? One morning it was dead. She told me when I walked in her room. “There's a dead dog in my bed.” After a few attempts to convince her otherwise, I told her I would call my brother to bury it. That seemed to satisfy her. When my brother came to the house, the first thing she told him was about the dead dog in her bed. He said, “I took care of it.” We never heard another word about that dog.
In February of this year I began attending a Caregiver's Support Group - Lunch with Ray. We don't really have lunch, but usually get some of Ray's delicious cookies. We meet at Sunnyside Baptist Church the 1st Wednesday of each month. At the moment the time is 10:30 a.m., but we're considering adding an evening meeting for people who work. It's a great ministry, and if you live in the Toccoa, GA area and are a caregiver, or know a caregiver who needs information or emotional or spiritual support, this is the place to be. Even if your loved one is in a nursing home or doesn't even live in the same state, you still have the burdens and concerns. We've received some great legal and financial information. Not to mention fellowship. Check the facebookpage for updates and information.
It's been six months since mom passed, but I continue to go to the meetings. It's a morning out, there are good cookies and great company. Most of all, it's an excuse to see Mr. Ray Whiten, our fearless leader and a beautiful saint of God. Even if you don't have any dead dogs in anyone's bed, you'll find the group worthwhile. We all need a helping hand when we're going through the valley of the shadow of death with someone we love.