Tissues Make A Terrible Barricade!
The other day I went to Mom's house and she had barricaded the front door with papers, tissue boxes and a garbage can. I know what you are thinking- that is one terrible barricade! I mean, papers? Are you going to be papercutting people on their way in the door? Tissue boxes do stack well, but tend not to be the highest in home security. Plus, it's not an art sculpture or anything.
I immediately found myself wanting to clean up the mess, to hide what was there. I couldn't bear the idea that anyone had seen this besides myself or my siblings. Mom is scared that someone is breaking into her apartment and stealing her things (a coffee mug, her Christmas cards, her address book- just the usual stuff one would steal). So she did what made sense in her head. She made it harder for someone to break in. I get it Mom. And I can't imagine how scary it must be to feel like you are not safe in your own home. That must feel awful.
This was a big deal to Mom, but I found myself not wanting to talk about it with anyone and to keep it private. You know what keeps me quiet? What keeps me answering "She's okay" when people ask how Mom is? It's because it feels like a mental health problem, and not an incurable disease. And somewhere in my growing up (maybe it's the Connecticut in me?) I learned that mental health problems are hinted at, or maybe whispered about behind someone's back, but certainly never talked about out in the open. Alzheimer's is a medical condition, but the symptoms are all about behaviors and mood, aka-mental health. So I've decided that if I am truly going to "try for joy" and truly going to try and see something valuable or even good in this disease, I need to be honest that some parts are embarrassing for Mom and for the family. If nothing else, maybe it will encourage other "kids" (I am 36 and still using "kid" as a title for myself) to be honest when their parents are struggling with dementia. I have to have faith that because mental illness is so common, a lot of you have dealt with it on some level and will "get it" that not all of our are at our best, at all points.
So can we help each other "try for joy"? Can we help someone else find the joy in their day? Or maybe, can we just be honest when we are the ones that need help, so that our communities around us can know when we need help or a brownie or a beer? A while back, a friend of mine's Mom was having some serious issues with her extended family. My friend said, "I just want to fix it for her". But he realized he couldn't. So he said "I can't fix this big problem, but I can make her day". It shifted every visit he had with her, and allowed him to feel free to have his goal just be a little bit of joy on that day, instead of trying to fix everything.
I thought of this the other day with Mom. I wanted to clean everything up, organize every shelf and show her that all of the things she thought were stolen were still there. Instead we walked around the papers, each ate a croissant and looked (again) at all of the Christmas cards she had received. They brought her so much joy, and she wanted to share that with me. She showed me how to see the joy, in the middle of a mental and household mess- she picked the thing she that brought her joy to focus on. I know it was love that made her show me those cards- because she wanted me to feel that joy and love too. I know it made her day on that day.