Meet Mary

(Editor’s Note: Today we welcome a new blogger, Kristin. Here’s her story…)

I am a retired social worker who is caregiving an 85-year-old woman with dementia in return for assistance I received years ago from one of this woman’s daughters, who helped me through an extraordinarily difficult year 23 years ago. I vowed then to repay her goodness when the opportunity presented itself.

When her mother, Mary, began showing signs of dementia and it was clear none of the three daughters would be able to provide constant care, I stepped in to volunteer. I have known the family for 32 years and consider them my second family, although Mary would not include me as a family member. But then she barely considers her daughters to be her family.

Mary has mixed dementias, per the representative of the local Alzheimer’s Association: Alzheimer’s, vascular and Lewy Body. The Lewy Body presents the most evident symptoms: excessive sleeping in the daytime, tremors of the hands and legs, shuffling gait and varying periods of alertness and fogginess. Her short-term memory retention at this point is less than a minute.

The reason the daughters cannot care for her is that Mary is not now and never has been a very nice person. She was physically and emotionally abusive to the children and the pets and emotionally abusive to her husband, who was a gentle, lovely man. When he developed Parkinson’s, she refused to allow the home to be modified to assist him. The girls did it anyway, of course, over her objections.

She has no evident emotional relationship with her daughters, only considering them in light of what they can do for her. The girls want to do the best by Mary for the sake of their father, but simply cannot spend much time around her. She is annoying beyond belief, and always has been (to the family, not to outsiders). They turned the basement of Mary’s home into a nice apartment for me and I moved in just about a year ago. The home is far out in the country, 1/4 mile from the road; it is isolated by woods from road and neighbors. Mary gets few visitors.

Mary was always active prior to colon cancer surgery five years ago: She was a competent artist, golfed, bowled, participated in a craft group, hiked around her property, and maintained a large vegetable and herb garden. She entertained in her home and was a gracious hostess.

Those outside the family regarded her with affection and respect, although in 32 years I have never seen her return the affection. She is very narcissistic. It was probably two or so years before the surgery that she began showing signs of dementia, but these were not noted at the time. Following surgery, which left her with a colostomy, Mary attempted to resume her former activities, but it became too much for her and she eventually took to her couch and settled down to a life of reading romances and watching TV. At this time, she spends about 12 hours a day there, much of it napping.

My challenges are, as I see them in regard to Mary, to treat her with respect at all times, even when she is abusing me; to monitor my own need to maintain control when the situation doesn’t demand it; and to protect Marion from her own lack of judgment and her stubbornness, such as when she insists on going outside when it is below zero.

For myself, as a 24/7 caregiver, I need to find more ways to nurture myself and I need to get more sleep!


16 thoughts on “Meet Mary

  1. Kathy

    Hi Kristin,

    Bless your heart for stepping willfully into this role.
    There will be a HUGE reward for you in heaven :)

    Mary sound like a fiesty soul.
    Do you mind my asking, what types of meds is she on?

    I ask because my own husband has Lewy Body Dementia.
    He also suffers from PTSD and as a result emotional problems of anger and anxiety and a plethora of other ugliness have been a part of most of his, and all of our married, life.
    The Drs finally put him on Depakote many years ago and it is the ONLY meds I will fight them over should they ever try to take him off of it.
    I tried weening him off under the eyes of his Drs. I did this due to the fact that he seemed to sleep all the time anyway and seemed docile it wouldn’t make any difference. BOY WAS I WRONG!
    And I will NOT make that mistake again.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  2. Kristin

    Boy, my heart goes out to you. We share the task of caring for someone who has not, to be generous here, been consistently kind over the years, but Mary’s abuse has evolved into a more psychological form. She is on no meds for any aspect of the dementia at this time. She takes Coumadin and Lisinopril only. Our issues come when I have to take one more thing away from her because she can no longer handle it. She does get very angry and spews Bad Words, most of them describing me. Or she fights me over my increasing involvement in her personal hygiene. If she really does have Alzheimer’s, as well as Lewy Body, and because she loves a fight (one of her daughters says that all Mary’s energy has always come from her deep anger), I am expecting we’ll see some more physical battles later as her Alz. really kicks in.
    Isn’t it amazing how much trouble these folks who “sleep all the time” can get into in the time that they are awake?
    God bless you!

  3. Jo

    In incredible story Kristen, an honor to meet you. I look forward to reading more of your entries. May you be richly blessed for what you are doing for Mary and this family.

  4. Bette

    Welcome Kristin,

    I am sorry for what you are enduring. My husband, three children (14, 11 and 8) care for my mother who had a stroke years ago, and 3 years ago was diagnosed with dementia. My relationship with my mother is growing within the dementia. It was not as close as I wished years ago.

    My 14 year old was commenting last night about caregiving (in a not so positive way). I said, “Abrah, could it ever be that our situation is an opportunity–an opportunity to maybe help another caregiver one day”. She wasn’t sure what to say, but I could tell it had given her some things to think about.

    Thank you Kristin, for making a difference with other caregivers–me to start. I appreciate your story and your strength.

    Your story will make a difference in many places.

    I wish for you good sleep soon.

    Mary is very fortunate to have you.

    • Kristin

      You’re so right, caregiving is an opportunity – to learn patience, acceptance and unconditional love of another human being, and to share this with others. I am light years away from learning to love Mary unconditionally. I try to take lessons from her dog! Thanks so much for your good wishes.

  5. Sharon

    Kristen, I give you so much credit for willingly taking on this caregiving role for someone who is not even a loved one. I truly admire you for this.

    • Kristin

      Thank you. But the person who gets the credit here is Mary’s daughter, who helped me so generously all those many years ago. She taught me so much about steadfastness.

  6. Avatar of DeniseDenise

    Hi Kristin! It’s wonderful to meet you. I’m so glad you’re going to share your days with us here. And, I hope today is a good one for you. :)

  7. Avatar of KarenKaren

    Hi Kristin,

    What an amazing thing you are doing. It is so difficult to care for someone who is abusive.

    I am so fortunate that my mother has always been an optimistic and cheerful person of strong faith. And my brother, although he could be a curmudgeon, could almost always be ‘jollied out’ of it.

    My mother took care of her mother for many years. And her mother was physically and emotionally abusive to her all of her life. I was always amazed that Mom had so much patience with her, no matter what. Mom believes–and has told me often–that people like this (those whose difficult behavior is not brought on by meds) are in some way mentally ill and that, in the next life will be whole of mind. (What can I say? Mom makes Pollyanna look like a grump).

    Her example helped me learn a lot of patience and has blessed my life.

    I can certainly understand that Mary’s family may not be emotionally capable of dealing with her. (My Aunt always sent money, but could not bring herself to spend time).

    I hope that this site will help you deal with things and have the strength and wisdom wot care for yourself as well.


  8. Kristin

    Your mother is right, of course, and Mary does have a personality disorder. Can’t be that angry and narcissistic all one’s life without cause. Her own mother was mentally unhealthy, and I remind myself that Mary did not choose to be a cruel person.
    Thank you for your kind words.

  9. Trish

    Welcome, Kristin,

    What an amazing person you are to have taken on this role. Don’t sell yourself short — some people would not have taken this on even if they were given considerable help 23 years ago. I look forward to reading more about your situation. Wishing you some good sleep very soon! Trish

  10. Holly Eburne

    Welcome Kristin,

    Mary may not even be aware that she has an angel living downstairs.

    The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz reminds me to do the best I can every day and that is what you are doing for Mary.
    To respect and treat yourself first will keep you healthy so that you will be able to help Mary for the duration of her journey. Is there someone (volunteer or paid) who can come into Mary’s home to help her with the hygiene? How about respite care for couple of days of rest? Do you go outside for walks every day to ‘walk’ off your emotions and stay physically fit for this demanding journey? How about meditating to clear some of the chatter and emotions swirling in your brain? These are some of the things I do to deal with the challenges of living with a husband with dementia.

    Best to you and wow–I sure admire your strength and commitment to Mary and your path.


  11. Kristin

    Gosh, my friends would be very surprised to hear me described as an angel. Certainly Mary would. We’re working on a volunteer for brief respite, but help is hard to come by in this area. Mary hasn’t the money to hire someone, and I live on social security only, so I can’t hire anyone, either. It’s basically me and weekly visits from the two daughters who live locally. I do meditate and use a treadmill (too icy outside for walking yet), but not daily, and sometimes I’m interrupted by the barking upstairs (did I mention that the dog has dementia, too? I think it’s called Lewy Barking Dementia). Thanks for your kinds words and a reminder that, yes, I am doing the best I can.

  12. Kay Balsley

    Kristin I am a caregiver to my husband he has MD but some days I think he has a bit of Dementia He is abusive with his words and language towards me and I know how trying this can be I am so thankful for this online support group my only way to vent.I hope you are getting the support you need in your caregiving


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