by Miki Klocke
My Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was 56 years old and still working two jobs. I was 33 and became her full-time caregiver. A few years into our journey, when Mom still occasionally had coherent moments, we talked about how difficult this path is and what limited resources there were to help us. There wasn’t anyone for us to talk to. During that conversation I promised Mom that I would share our story so that it could help others. I had no clue how I would accomplish that as I had a degree in photography and limited writing experience.
Many very overwhelming years passed where that promise remained a passing thought. During what would be Mom’s fourth year on hospice, I finally had the time to get serious about keeping my promise. I wrote, I shared, I rewrote many, many times. Photography has always been a part of my life, a lifeline, in fact, during the difficult years of caregiving. Through encouragement, I was led to combine my photography and writing into a visual and poetic expression of the trials and tribulations of caregiving that became Alzheimer’s: Beyond Caregiving.
Through 17 years of caregiving, my greatest source of support came from Caregiver Support groups offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. Hearing the stories of others who had gone before me and those navigating a similar path gave me hope and strength to continue on. They also gave me the permission I needed to express my fears, shed tears and verbalize the anger and shame at not being able to do enough. I want to make not only Alzheimer’s, but also caregiving, a topic we can all freely talk about.
The stigma and misunderstandings of both Alzheimer’s and caregiving open us up to misguided suggestions that can hurt more than help. When you are a full-time caregiver, you have little to no time for yourself. Well-meaning friends and acquaintances often say to “take care of yourself first.” I found it hard not to cry, scream and/or laugh every time I heard this advice. I grew to despise those words. They made me feel more alone – proof that no one understood what it was like caring for Mom.
However, I also grew to understand that taking time doesn’t have to be a physical act as I first imagined, but it can be a mental act. My photography often shows what can seem to some a lonely place, but to others a place of solace. Our perceptions can be foggy in the trenches of caregiving. You can feel trapped by circumstances, but they can also be a place of introspection and an opportunity for a connection beyond words that is simply love.
My time of reflection led me to discover that we never really have control. Therefore, I was able to not only accept – but embrace – the changes that are inevitable in Alzheimer’s. The minute-by-minute changes, as well as the daily, weekly and monthly changes. And the big change, the one that Alzheimer’s always leads to, because there is no cure.
But there is, if not a cure for the loneliness of caregiving, at least good medicine — sharing our stories openly with each other, without censure or shame. There’s a whole community out there waiting to talk about the grief, the pain and the hardships that are part of this devastating journey.
When I began Alzheimer’s: Beyond Caregiving, I knew I wasn’t alone in my challenges and concerns of caregiving, but the greatest validation came in this comment: ". . . this book is like sitting down with a friend who knows what it’s like.” I couldn’t have put into words what I wanted the take away of this book to be, but that is it.
About the Author
Miki Klocke is a photographer and author. Her images mirror what is going on in her heart and soul. During her 17 years of taking care of her mom, her images reflected a lonely time, an introspective time, a longing for peace and solitude . . .
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