It is important to me that you know that there have been many days when hope waned. Days when I thought I would never feel hope or joy again. Here is an excerpt from my journal, one I wrote when Mom was still living on her own and I was working full time AND going over there 3-4 times a day (a 30 minute round trip drive). I was the only human person my mother would see. It was so very hard. Oh yes, my hope was waning. Big time waning.
This Too Shall Pass
“This too shall pass,” she groaned as she tried to move from one location in her apartment to another. It had been two weeks of back pain. It was pain that was real at the start, but by now her injury had healed. Yet, the Alzheimer’s made it difficult for my mother to let go of the memory of the pain. The geriatric neurologist called this perseveration; a manifestation of Alzheimer’s in which the patient repeats tasks, phrases and worries. In order to stop the repetition, they need someone to distract them. When real pain comes upon them, when a stomach ache, sore throat, or even nausea is experienced, then the brain makes it such that “this too shall pass” is a lessened reality. At a time when the short term memory is failing my mother, what she is often forgetting is that she is actually feeling better today than yesterday. Thus she repeats incessantly the phrase, “this too shall pass.”
This too shall pass. But Mom, “Will it?!”
I suspect my mother heard her mother say this. I suspect Grandma Betty said this many times over the course of her adult life, as she raised her five children, after her alcoholic husband left soon after her 5th child (my mother) was born. Grandma managed to raise her children on welfare and low paying jobs. And the hardship did pass. The children grew, she retired to a small apartment and was able to enjoy life a bit. I remember visiting her there and the joy she exuded. Years later she did have to go through a rather harsh death and I can imagine she said, “this too shall pass.”
This too shall pass. I’ve heard my mother say this phrase many times in my adult life. Like her mother, she raised six children with an alcoholic husband, one who didn’t leave, but stayed to provide what she needed, even though the alcohol made it unbearable. She got through those years by digging her heels in and believing that, “this too shall pass.” And it did. In her mid 50’s she bravely left my father; divorced him even though it left her with nothing. She moved across the country, without a penny to her name, into a home owned by a dear friend, away from him and toward a new life. It did pass Mom. You were right.
This too shall pass. I’ve heard my mother say this phrase many times in her 60’s and 70’s. Mother remarried. She traveled with her new husband, enjoyed her retirement community and made many friends. Yet she found herself in a marriage that required to dig her heels in again and say, “this too shall pass.” This phrase became her way of enduring her second husband’s tirades, put downs and withholdings (of affection and money). She nurtured and cared for him through his disease of dementia, all without the knowledge of his children. This understandable distance from their father, required my mother to be his primary care giver far too long. This too shall pass. And it did when he died. “I don’t even miss him,” she said to me. But I think she did. In some odd way she missed the energy that was in her apartment, even if it was a negative energy.
This too shall pass. Here we were, just months after her second husband’s death, and she was saying it again. It was finally an opportunity for my mother to rest, to rest without abuse. Maybe she could travel a bit with her girlfriends. I had hope in this outcome (bad idea probably). Perhaps it had finally all passed for my mother. And yet, a new form of abuse came upon her. Only this time, it was learning that others were trying to steal her home out from under her. I won’t go into the details. “This too shall pass,” she sighed, as we met with a lawyer, as we cried together over the injustice she felt. “This too shall pass,” my mother said, as she felt the betrayal. “I thought they loved me.” “Why are they doing this to me?”
This too shall pass.
And now, as I try to assemble a new life for my Mom, I find myself thinking it and saying it right along with her. The Alzheimer’s makes it difficult. Who will come alongside my mother and alongside me as we try to navigate the challenges? My mother endures the typical cold, sore throat and stomach aches that we all do. Because of her age, she more easily tweaks her lower back. Yet on these days her brain won’t let go of pain. Even if she is physically better, has moved through the cold or flu, her brain doesn’t know she has. At this point in the game, as my mother struggles with pain that appears to be no longer real, the notion of “this too shall pass” almost makes me sneer with anger. The pain is gone, but her brain doesn’t know it is gone. This too shall pass?!!
As the only local caregiver I find myself begging God for help. I can only come up with so many plans to distract her. I want this episode to pass and yet to help it pass requires so much time, so much energy, so much creativity that at the end of the day, I am spent.
So here I am, giving myself my mother’s own advice. This too shall pass. I don’t know how long my mother will live with her Alzheimer’s. It could be one year. It could be 15. This too shall pass. And on the day that I am beside her, on the day I watch Mom die I will finally agree with her that it has passed. She can now rest, unabused, full in the presence of a kind God who only wants the best for her.
But in the meantime, how do I not let hope wane? Is “this too shall pass” all I have?