By Amie McGraham
The year I turned fifty, I transitioned from a successful thirty-year sales and marketing career to the role of primary caregiver for my mother, returning to the island home of my childhood three thousand miles away. Mom has had Alzheimer’s for the past few years and, while she’s aware that she’s slowly slipping away, refuses to recognize this because of her religious beliefs. Disease of any type is a topic we never talk about. For her, to acknowledge dementia would be to admit that disease is real: that God’s plan has been altered.
I was raised in this religion. Based on faith healing, it rejects medicine, doctors and hospitals; prohibits alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and drugs. My parents divorced when I was eleven and I divorced myself from religion, beginning a twenty-five year spiral into a life of alcoholism, half measures and wanderlust; unfulfilled careers and relationships. Eventually, I clawed my way out and began rebuilding my life.
Repairing the relationship with my mother is part of my recovery. Immersion into the world of Alzheimer’s caregiving initially felt like a labyrinth in which all roads seemed to lead to frustration, anger and impatience. Sometimes it seemed more like a duty. But caregiving, I’ve discovered, is truly the best form of service. It's taken a while to embrace this; longer to actually live it. In caring for my mother -- actually living with her for the first time since my reckless departure from her life at age thirteen -- I have developed real compassion. For my mother. For others. And for myself.