Different Goodbyes

Jennifer Leigh State

Different Goodbyes

Jennifer Leigh State
imageAs a caregiver, your loved one becomes your child. At least that's how it felt for me. With my mom being as sweet as she was, the role of nurturer was an easy one for me to assume. So as her Alzheimer's progressed, I became the 'mom'.

I took on the job to love, fulfill and keep my mom safe. When her surroundings started becoming unfamiliar, I plastered the walls with family photos: Big 8x10s at every turn of the house. When news and talk shows became beyond her grasp, I programmed her favorite music to play and put on old silly movies instead. I got her slip-on shoes when laces and tying got too confusing, and spill-proof cups for the new challenge of holding a glass. I hounded the doctors for better medicines and fought the insurance company when costs weren't covered. When stumbling became the new walking, I padded the walls and cushioned the floors. I snuggled in bed with her when she couldn't get out of it, and I danced for her when she needed to laugh. I was her caretaker, her advocate, and her protector.

I couldn't fix things, there was no medicine or doctor who could, but I tried to make it a little better. That's all I could do, and it was my mission. For years, her well-being was my most important responsibility. Taking care of my mom became who I was.

So when she passed away, it didn't quite hit me that I lost my mom. Instead, I was overwhelmingly worried about her. I couldn't shake my caregiver role: Did she get to heaven okay? Is she scared up there, wondering where she is? Did she find her parents? Is someone with her so she's not alone?  I couldn't let go of my worry, I couldn't stop wanting to fix things for her, to make sure she was okay. She was still my 'baby'.

Taking care of her was a role I stepped into out of necessity, but it's one that I was good at, and it became my passion. My 'job' was to love and protect my mom. What could be more important than that? To me, nothing was. It was my purpose in life and, in many ways, the role defined me.

So as the reality of my mom's absence set in, it felt like a multi whammy. I didn't just lose my mom, I lost my 'child'. And, my job to nurture, support, care and provide for her was also gone.

For me, Alzheimer's was not just 'A Long Goodbye', as it's often described. It's been a series of very different goodbyes. Goodbye to my mom as I knew her, goodbye to the child she became to me, and goodbye to my most important role in life: being my mom's protector.