Communion Of Dreams


I am not a saint.
October 26, 2007, 11:56 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Failure, Health, Hospice

I just lost my temper. I just had a full-fledged screaming fit, eyes bulging, veins throbbing, face beet red. At a 90 year old woman who knows no better, who is confused by the world around her due to Alzheimer’s, who is likely dying.

Why did I just do this reprehensible thing, and why on earth am I admitting to it in a public forum?

The first part of that question is the more difficult one to answer. I did it out of frustration, exhaustion, and fear. Frustration because she (my MIL) has been exhibiting compulsive behaviours all morning which drive me nuts (tearing things out of magazines, wanting to write on the back of photos in the little album she has, ‘cleaning’ up some lunch mess with a kleenex and in the process smearing stuff all over the table top and making more work for me.) This sort of thing rapidly gets under my skin – it’s like some small kid pestering you with a behaviour that they know will drive you nuts. Except, of course, that in this case she doesn’t really know what the hell she is doing.

Exhaustion is obvious. Though I have been getting a lot more sleep, this is the end of years of being a care-giver. I do not have ‘reserves’ to draw upon. I only have a worn and fragile veneer of sanity. I have had the discussions with her which tripped my outburst hundreds of times. Sometimes, like this one, I just snap.

Fear? Because she is dying. Because in some sense, while I know that we have done everything humanly possible to care for her, and extended her life by years . . . I will still feel a sense of failure as a care provider. I hate to fail at things. I fear that others will think less of me because of that failure.

So, why tell on myself, here, in this way? Because this is part of what it means to be a care provider. You lose your temper. You scream, you shout, you act in mean and petty ways. You will lose your temper, or your sanity, now and again. And if you are to be effective as a care giver, you then have to catch your breath, forgive yourself, and get on with the task at hand. None of us are saints. We’re all frail, fallible human beings. You have to accept that, if you have any hope of getting through this. Because you can’t just take the day off to go relax, or turn this project over to someone else. You have to deal with your own outburst, then get over it as best you can. You have to keep going, whether you want to or not, whether you feel fear, or exhaustion, or shame.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Jim, you have my sympathy and admiration.

Comment by John Morales

John, thanks. You may be interested in reading some of the additional comments I got in the cross-posting over at dkos.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

You are certainly not alone. I have regretted losing my temper with my 93-yr-old moderate-Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother many, many times.

I know she can’t help the compulsive behaviors, constantly repeating herself, misplacing EVERYTHING (I finally found her dish drainer) and lousy short-term memory.

Sometimes it just seems like more than I can bear, and it’s only getting worse.

I wish I had something constructive to offer you other than “me, too”, but I suppose the only thing to do is not beat up on ourselves when our tempers explode. Dementia care demands the patience of a saint; very few of us qualify, but dammit – we come close as we can.

Comment by andante

Andante, there’s nothing wrong with “me, too” – it is largely the reason why I write these posts: so that other care providers or family with Alzheimer’s/dementia patients know that they are not alone in their experiences. I also cross-post a lot of them at Daily Kos, where they do get more notice and discussion which can be useful. You might want to take a look.

Good luck with your mom, for as long as you can care for her. Remember to take care of yourself as well.

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

[…] written a fair amount about failure here, from the sense of failure I felt in connection with caring for Martha Sr to other more public failures.  In the first ‘failure’ tagged post from last year, I […]

Pingback by Failure. « Communion Of Dreams

[…] It was this one: I am not a saint. […]

Pingback by Curious coincidence. « Communion Of Dreams

you have hit so many truths–if only i could practice what i preach!!

Comment by diane




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