Posted on: May 10, 2015 | 0 Comments |
Note: In 2007, Jamie Wilson Headley (founder and CEO of Dementia Services Group) began the complicated process of helping her once-independent mother adjust to life with dementia.
These are the challenges that one woman faced, but although Jamie’s Journey is deeply personal, it is also universal. We hope that her trials and triumphs will shed light on the emotional and logistical issues that come with caring someone with dementia.
Mom loved having something to take care of again. Her cat, Sasha, was great company and did a lot to keep Mom’s mind off of her memory issues.
One day after work, I stopped by to see Mom as per usual and I noticed that there were stains on the couch and on her bed. When I questioned Mom about it, she told me that Sasha was having some diarrhea. I checked the litter box and saw there was clearly an issue.
As I got the couch cleaned up and washed Mom’s linens for her, I realized Sasha didn’t just have normal diarrhea — she seemed to be leaking it. The next day I took Sasha to the vet, who said that Sasha probably just had an infection or mild parasite from being at the shelter. The vet gave Sasha an injection of antibiotics and recommended some special food.
I’d intentionally not taken Mom with to the vet because I feared it would just make her more anxious, but by the time I got Sasha back to the apartment, Mom was a wreck and had been pacing the whole time we were gone. She had been so worried about her cat and was relieved to have her back home.
That was one of those moments I realized the role reversal was in full swing.
Mom had always been the one to take my cats to the vet for me. My cats would always cry and howl in the car, then shake with fear when we got to the clinic. It upset me (of course) and I’d worried that my anxiety was contributing to their distress. By the end of a visit, usually both the cat and I were a mess, which was why Mom had stepped in to take over for me when it came to vet appointments. (Just another example of why it was my turn to step up and take care of her like she had always done for me.)
Back at Mom’s apartment, I explained what the vet said about Sasha. Mom settled down and showered the cat with affection.
But after a couple of days, I noticed the diarrhea was not getting any better. Concerned, I called the vet and scheduled another appointment. This time, the vet wanted to keep Sasha overnight so she could run some more tests and observe her over a period of time.
I packed Mom up and had her come spend the night with us so she wouldn’t be lonely. I made Mom her favorite dinner, and my two cats were a good distraction from her worries. The next morning I took Mom back to her apartment so I could go to work.
Midday, the vet called and said she thought the issue with Sasha was much more serious than she had originally believed. She wanted to keep Sasha for another night. I cringed and agreed, wondering how to keep Mom from panicking and what I could do to keep her mind off of it that night.
As I was leaving work and heading to pick up Mom (and tell her she was spending another night with us), the vet called back. Everything went into slow motion and I felt my stomach turn as the vet told me,
I consented, hung up the phone and pulled into a near by parking lot and sobbed.
I cried for Sasha.
I cried for the pain I knew Mom would feel.
Mostly, I cried for myself. As awful as that sounds, it is the truth. How was I going to tell her? How was I going to fix it? How much more could I take?
After a few minutes, I pulled myself out of my pity party and headed to Mom’s. Luckily, it was Friday and I could plan to have Mom stay at our house for the weekend so she wouldn’t be alone.
By the time I got to her apartment, I had convinced myself that we would get through this. We had lost beloved pets before, Mom was still an adult – this would be okay.
I walked into Mom’s apartment and told her, “Sasha was very sick, and the vet had to put her down. She was suffering.”
The color drained from Mom’s face and I knew in that moment I was wrong yet again. This was not going to be okay.