A New Perspective — Helping a Friend Cope with Alzheimer’s
Over the last several months I’ve watched one of my good friends experience a new season of life. Shortly after her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, it became apparent that my friend’s mom (I’ll call her Helen) couldn’t live on her own any longer. So, she moved in with my friend’s young family. Life has changed a great deal for all of them since then. Helen has lost a huge degree of independence and struggled with depression while my friend has lost a great deal of freedom. And my friend is having to parent her parent.
Both of my grandmothers spent their last few years living with my parents, so I am no stranger to this change of perspectives between child and parent. Yet, I was somewhat removed from the situation as I was away at college for much of that time. Now that it is one of my peers experiencing the change, I am looking at it with new eyes.
One day my friend was expressing some of her frustrations about her situation and I remarked that our lives were somewhat similar, as I have a severely autistic child who needs constant supervision. My friend exhaled and shook her head. She said, “In some ways yes, but you have hope for the future. Your daughter will probably get better. My mother is only going to get worse.”
I felt very sorry for my friend when I thought about the truth in that statement. Sometimes I don’t feel as if I have hope, but at other times I can see glimmers of a brighter future. For my friend, each day is a painful journey of watching her mother’s decline. Yes, she does have eternal hope, as they are Christians, but there is still the daily struggle to manage.
After several months of my friend’s new living situation, she realized she needed some help and decided to hire someone to come in two days a week to be with her mom. This would give her time to run errands without having to worry about her mother. I told her what a great idea that was. I had no idea that person would wind up being me.
It’s been a few months since I started staying with Helen, and I’ve seen that the situation has benefitted all three of us. My friend seems more relaxed, especially on the days I come to her house. And Helen seems to enjoy having me around. Her face breaks into a huge smile when I walk into the room, and she is always waiting for me at the kitchen table, ready to chat. Having someone to talk to has helped her stay sharper and improved her mood. Their in-home nurse even remarked to my friend about how positive Helen seemed the last time she came by.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
As for myself, I’ve found Helen to be a deep well of encouragement. She listens to my struggles of mothering a special needs child and she never gets tired of asking me questions about it. Although her short-term memory often fails her, she can remember raising her own children and the difficulties she dealt with.
Time with Helen gives me a new perspective and it forces me to stop and take a break from my daily “to do” list that will never end no matter how hard I work at it. Taking a step away from my own season of life and experiencing life with her has helped me to keep a larger perspective. I need to look at each day as a blessing and enjoy what it has to offer. Plus, it has been wonderful to encourage my friend and her mother.