You deserve a break today.

February 6, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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That’s what McDonald’s always told us, when they were trying to sell us hamburgers and fries using the medium of television jingles. Actually, it was Barry Manilow who wrote the jingle – did you know that? I always knew that boy would make good.

But the song is true. You do deserve a break today. Life without Memories reminded me last month about how hard it is for an Alzheimer’s caregiver to get a break.

In my grandmother’s case, she always said, “You young people go out and enjoy yourselves. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.” But she also admitted, “I get terribly lonely when you’re gone.” In other words, sometimes she would be fine, other times she would be in danger. The problem was that, eventually, we could no longer predict which time it was. So we stopped leaving her alone. Ever.

My relatives told me I needed to get out of the house. They even sent me money to pay for respite caregivers. Other relatives who had taken care of her before also urged me to take a break.

Frankly, my concern about what the respite caregivers would do to my grandmother made it a little hard to relax when I put her into their hands. She was less trouble when she was asleep, and she wanted to sleep, so they let her. When she was awake, they didn’t mind leaving her alone while they read novels in another room.

Yes, I would have liked to have gotten out more. I would also have liked to travel around the world. But I didn’t do that either. Most of us can’t do that. We don’t cry over it. Every responsibility is a chain of some length and thickness. But only hermits can live without responsibility. If you have no responsibility, are you really living?

I found that, with my grandmother’s fairly mild symptoms and pleasant disposition, getting a break wasn’t very important to me after all. Some of the caregivers who just had to get out of the house were closer relatives, sons or daughters, whose agony over how far she had fallen was accompanied by deeper wounds than I felt. I didn’t know her that well before I began caring for her. I didn’t really know how far she had fallen.

Instead, I felt great peace and deep satisfaction when I was with my grandmother. I felt that I was in the place where I belonged. A mother of an infant can feel the same way, when she sees it as her child and not as her chain. Love is the strongest chain.

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