Caregivers get lonely. The job itself isolates us: our duties leave little time for lunch with a friend or participation in group activities or even a satisfying phone conversation.
Yet companionship, conversation, and the opportunity to share feelings and concerns are some of the most effective weapons against a malady that over 80% of caregivers experience: depression. We owe it to ourselves and our families and the loved ones we are caring for to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself to think and talk about anything other than Alzheimer’s. We may be surprised at where we find some of those opportunities.
My parents never socialized much. They were best friends, and apparently saw little need for other relationships. But then Dad’s best friend forgot him. She could no longer talk to him about the issues, critical or trivial, that filled their lives. And that was OK with her; she wasn’t interested any more. Dad, on the other hand, was slowing starving for “normal.”
Who would dream that almost-daily trips to the grocery store could be so beneficial for an Alzheimer’s caregiver?
Thanks to them, Dad became a social butterfly.
When we arrived at the store, Dad always headed straight for the door. I stayed back with Mom, helping her out of the car, taking her arm—or her waist or shoulder or whatever she allowed me to hold on to that day—to keep her steady during our trip across the parking lot. Dad knew we’d catch up, so he moved ahead with speed and purpose. And a smile on his face.
Even from the parking lot, I could see him through the glass doors, talking with the greeter of the day. All the store greeters knew Mr. B, and he knew them. By the time Mom and I entered, he was asking about how that grandson was doing at UT or sharing his prediction that of course the Cowboys would win that weekend.
Employees in various departments waved as Dad led our slow caravan through the aisles of the superstore. Sometimes they hailed him from a distance. “Mr. B! How you doing?”
“Doin’ great!” Dad boomed back. “Thanks a lot, ole partner!” His bright blue eyes probably couldn’t quite make out whether it was Jim or Charley working in produce that day, but “ole partner” worked in any case.
The women would tell him how nice he looked and he returned their compliments. Sometimes other “regular” shoppers said hello or made a joke like, “It looks like you own this place!” Dad blushed, and his smile grew wider.
But occasionally, with the utter unpredictability that characterizes Alzheimer’s, the sporadic conversations irritated Mom. She would frown and tell Dad to “Come on!” Sometimes she grew angry enough to steer the cart on a collision course with someone or something, didn’t matter what, just to let us know she wasn’t happy. On those occasions, I used my body to herd the cart, and her, away from the area. Though it was seldom necessary, I was ready to walk back outside and sit with Mom in the car so Dad could keep up with those casual but meaningful relationships.
As Alzheimer’s took away more and more of Mom’s mind and memories and emotions, she noticed less and less, I think, how isolated she had become. But the same wasn’t true for Dad. The further Mom traveled away from him, the more aware he was that, even with her beside him, he was alone. So his friends at the store—and at the post office and the drugstore and in his neighborhood—were worth all his effort and whatever I could do to protect his time with them.
Dad would have said he was “doing fine; you worry too much, Kathleen. I don’t need friends. I’m fine with just you and your mother. I’m fine!” But the truth is…I think even Dad saw them as the miracles they were.
Thank You, Lord, for your generous and sweet provision. The friendship offered to Dad by these kind people is not the result of his effort. Instead it is your gift to him, the outpouring of your love. I pray he hears Your concern in their words, sees Your comfort in their eyes, feels Your abiding and powerful and calming presence in their company. All glory to You, who alone can bring such peace out of pain.
“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble.” Psalm 41:1 (NIV)