Of the many joys in my life, getting to know the families at The Ivey is way up there at the top. And I know my entire staff feels the same way. Recently our Marketing Director, Vikki Hunley, was enjoying a funny moment in the front lobby with a family caregiver, Chrisanne, and Vikki felt compelled to tell Chrisanne how much she enjoyed her humor. Chrisanne replied that besides The Ivey, humor was the only way she gets through it all. This struck us as a pretty enlightened perspective on life, and so we asked her to write down some of her thoughts about living with someone with Alzheimer’s. Here’s how she responded (I think you’ll appreciate the humor in it as much as I do):
“What do you do when your strong, independent mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and has to move in with you? Do you fall apart? Panic? Curse the God that let this happen? The answer: all of the above. But what I didn’t expect was the humor that comes with it all. Yes, I said humor. I know it sounds awful that I should find anything funny about the situation, but I do. My whole family does. Let me explain.
“After years of trying to find out what was going on with our mother’s mind, she was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was living alone and still driving, but we were concerned about her safety. We checked on her regularly and helped her with tasks around the house. During this time, my husband and I were in our 6th week of celebrating our youngest leaving the nest, and we finally had the house to ourselves. Then mom was hospitalized for pneumonia and COPD and was no longer able to live alone. After looking at all of our options, we decided that she would have to move in with us. (“Only 6 weeks of freedom? Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of cosmic joke? We raised our kids…prepared them to move upward and onward…how could this now be happening?) Every emotion ran through us, but we knew what had to be done. Mom moved in. And that’s when the fun began.
“For starters, Mom was a smoker for over 60 years when she came to live in our non-smoking home. We decided to give her four cigarettes a day, plus an e-cig. Well let me tell you, give a person with memory problems an e-cig and be prepared to spend five hours of your day looking for it. It got so bad that I had to tie a string to it and clip it to her clothes. (Imagine a pacifier holder for a smoker.) I sent a picture of it to all the grandchildren; they got a real kick out of it. It helped for them to laugh and enjoy the silliness of it all when they were so worried about the grandmother they were slowly losing every day. Even Mom thought it was funny, which really made us feel better. What she didn’t find funny was the fact that we gave her only four real cigarettes a day. So she started trying to smuggle in cigarettes from her friends. Once, when my son and his friend were home for a visit, she tried to bum smokes from them, too. Not to be outdone, my husband took to using a pink highlighter to color Mom’s four cigarettes bright pink every day. That way we knew if she was smoking contraband or not. She wasn’t happy, but we all got a laugh about her and her “pink ladies” going out for a smoke. This power struggle went on until she was hospitalized again for pneumonia and forced to give up all smoking products.
“Luckily, my brother and his kids live nearby – so after a month at my house, we decided it was best for my sanity (and my husband’s) to share custody of Mom. Now, she switches homes every Sunday. We knew it was going to be confusing for her, but we also knew we didn’t want to place her in an assisted living facility yet. What we didn’t count on was the ten times a day that she asks when she is going to the next house. The other day, she asked my brother so many times that he wrote it on her arm so she wouldn’t forget. Mom thought it was funny to get her own “homemade tattoo.”
“The stories are endless. Every once in a while, Mom adds to the fun with a witty comeback that cracks us all up and reminds us of the Mom we use to know.
“Every day brings new adventures, good and bad, some funny, and others not so funny. As a family, we love and support each other on this journey. We know that each day brings us closer to the day when Mom won’t remember us and disappears into herself. Until then, we choose to find the love and laughter in the simplest things.”
How perfectly lovely. Chrisanne, her brother Byron and their entire family have such a great sense of humor with their Mom – and Mom plays right along. If you can practice staying open to the funny things that naturally accompany life with Alzheimer’s or other types of memory loss, then you will find yourself expanding your bandwidth, growing your tolerance, and stretching your endurance. It’s amazing what you can handle when you tune in to the comedy of life and openly celebrate the absurdity of it all.
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