During the years I cared for my mother with Alzheimer’s, I struggled to know what to get her for special days like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. But over the years I came to recognize that the best gifts for Mom came in different packages. Those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or other chronic illnesses are often blessed most by simple gifts that keep on giving.
Touch. Those who work in hospice and palliative care understand the important role of touch in relieving pain, stress, and anxiety for those who are ill, especially those with dementia. Therapeutic touch can reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and calm the soul. Every day I cared for my mother, I spent a portion of the day massaging her head, stroking her arms and face, and rubbing her shoulders and back. Simple touch could often move my mother from pain to relaxation and from anxiety to rest.
Tone. In the later stages of my mother’s illness, I was convinced that it did not matter so much what I said to her, but how I said it. When she was agitated or frightened, I could have calmed her by reading from the phone book or speaking in pig latin, as long as my look was loving and my tone was calm. So it’s not surprising that I could also anger or upset her with an unguarded expression or sharp tone. I learned to speak to Mom in loving, even, quiet tones, always with an assuring expression on my face.
Time. Mom was living with me, so I must have been spending time with her, right? Of course. But in giving the gift of time, I entered into my mother’s reality and hung out with her. We spent time folding and re-folding towels in the couch, without a goal of “finishing.” We watched reruns of I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith. We peeled hard-boiled eggs and swept the kitchen floor together. And sometimes we just sat and watched the birds, looked through pictures, or had Dad read his diaries. Those moments were “Mom time.”
And they were gifts to me as well. My mother taught me much in her final years–lessons of compassion and grace that could only have been learned in our quiet moments together. Thank you, Mom.