I sat at the long wooden table, surrounded by people who’d turned their lives upside down to care for family members with dementia. I had not been a faithful attender of these caregiver support group meetings but for some reason that night, I felt the urge to go. People munched on snacks and sipped water while waiting for the meeting to begin. To my right sat a woman who was new to the group with a heart full of angst and a mind full of questions. We took turns briefly introducing ourselves and when she spoke, her voice sounded familiar. I turned to her and asked, “What is your name?”
“Carolyn Becker,” she said.
You could’ve heard the Disney song ‘It’s a Small World’ playing in my head.
“You were my AP English teacher in high school!” I replied.
It was one of my favorite classes, simply for the fact there were so many classic novels to read and papers to write. We marveled that our paths had crossed again and I learned that her husband had a kind of dementia that hadn’t yet been diagnosed properly.
Since that night, I saw Carolyn a few times when she brought her husband to Grace Arbor. We chatted about the disease, the stages our loved ones were in and our own emotional well-being. Eventually, her husband required more care than Grace Arbor could give so she found a different adult day center.
Then COVID hit. The economy tanked and unemployment soared. Schools closed and businesses limped along. Toilet paper vanished and masks became the norm. Grace Arbor temporarily closed its doors for everyone’s safety, so caregivers sheltered in place and watched their loved ones regress. The world was forced to “connect” virtually, only there is no virtual connection for people with dementia. Their brains don’t easily process interaction with a person on a screen.
Summer arrived and with it more challenges. Mom started falling and landed in the hospital for five days. After several physical therapy sessions, the falling continued and I am forced to accept the fact that I have become a caregiver to two parents instead of just one.
I lapsed into survival mode, trying to get the most important things done every day. I felt like I’d been plucked from the beach and hurled down into the depths of the ocean without an oxygen tank. At times I couldn’t breathe. Our friends graciously took turns sitting with Dad to give me a reprieve. Those precious hours were like a free pass I’d been given to rise to the surface of the water and gulp in more air before being catapulted to the deep again. All I could do was keep going.
When you’re functioning on autopilot, just getting a shower or a decent meal can feel like an accomplishment. You want things to be better but making important decisions in order to change your situation requires a Herculean effort. So you hold on, keep praying and look for relief.
During this time, I asked God to send me help in small, digestible pieces because I didn’t trust myself to make the right decisions. It was like putting a hamburger in front of a toddler. I needed someone to cut it up for me.
And that’s exactly what happened. A friend had told me about another adult day care center called Peachtree Christian Health, that had already reopened its doors. It offered dementia-friendly programs, medical monitoring, personal care, caregiver support, and horticultural, art, music and pet therapy. I knew I needed to check this place out, but I was so overwhelmed and exhausted from taking care of two parents that it felt like I was being asked to scale a mountain.
Then I got a call from Carolyn. Her husband had been going to PCH for a while so in just a matter of minutes, she told me what I needed to know. She even emailed me an application and contact information. It was exactly what I needed ~ bite-sized pieces.
In just a matter of days, I took my Father for his first day at PCH. There are a couple of familiar faces there ~ people who had attended Grace Arbor with Dad. Since he’s going to PCH twice a week, his mood has improved, he’s getting more exercise and loving the social interaction. And I can finally rest. The first day Dad went to PCH, I slept the entire afternoon.
I finally feel like I can breathe. I’m no longer being hurled below the deep, oxygen-deprived and gasping for air. After six months of sheltering in place, we are coming out of the dark and someone else is taking care of my Father besides me.
Thanks be to God.