One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 3
Caring for my mother-in-law for two years really was the straw that nearly broke my back. For one thing, my brain wasn’t working very well. You’ve heard of “Mommy brain?” There’s a particular kind of mental disorganization that intrinsically affects those tending to the needs of toddlers, not even counting postpartum hormonal changes, not counting the depletion as you nurse out your last drop to a dependent. The fog – the limitation of one’s mental upside -- is similar to the abilities of someone in the darkest time of grief.
Which means that I was operating at a triple handicap. When Gavin was alive I used to joke that “fighting cancer is hard enough, but just try it with the g*damn Barney song stuck in your head all day!” Now that my daughter was older, it was the music from the Backyardigans, each composition just different enough that they all blended together (Damn you, Evan Lurie! You’re too good! Why couldn’t the Lounge Lizards soldier on for 30 years and let the damn Rolling Stones write UNcatchy songs for cartoons?).
All I needed to turn into a complete dud was to be around someone with dementia, who not only never knew the day of the week, but forgot what calendars are for. Audrey had ceased to understand clocks and the natural changes during the day and between seasons.
Mommy brain + widow brain + Backyardigans music + grandma’s dementia = a brilliant woman who can barely read the Garnet Hill catalog and burns the frozen pizza.
I said the same thing over and over again: perhaps it’s an unhealthy focus for me at this point, with so much else on my plate. But it was my duty not to drop Audrey. My DOODY. And Gavin would want me to take care of her. He’d die – again – if he knew how poorly she was doing.
And again I’m saying the same thing, over and over, because grief is like that. Falling. Broken. Dropped. Words that described everything about us at that time in what we still knew was the bright treasure known as life. I spent every ounce trying to not fall too deep, knowing I was broken, but eating and sleeping and waking and doing laundry every day.
See? It almost sounds like a good situation for someone with dementia: a continual present with a Mommy nearby. Not hers, but still.
The most distressing part, for me, of being anywhere near Audrey was her lack of connection with her body. She called several times a day complaining of stomach pain, and headaches, and a “sicky” feeling. She sounded like some kind of oracle, always foreboding, avoiding responsibility because she forgot there was aspirin in the world and neglected to eat and drink. I’d bring her toast and tea but roll my eyes in the kitchen. I wanted to hit her.
Yes, I blamed Gavin for falling (that word again) down on his responsibility to her. On the other hand, what could he have done? With her son dying and cognitive impairment, would she have said, "you're right! I DO have to give up driving and move into a home!"?
One of my turning points was reading a discussion online about Alzheimer’s caregivers that stated, “Lack of insight into one’s own health is a hallmark of dementia.” Lack of insight into one’s own health is a hallmark of dementia – I loved it! I pinned the phrase up on my board at work, alongside the embarrassing typos of other editors, and laughed every day. And I was able to start really accepting that her problems were biological in nature, nothing to do with me or us and nothing that I could help.
(to be continued)
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