“Blowing kisses” has fast become a treasured memory. Robyn (pictured with Mom here) is our family’s co-caregiver. She visits Mom sporadically during each week. She sits with her, tells stories, creates sing-a-longs, and encourages Mom to blow kisses to her loved ones. Despite all that Alzheimer’s is stealing, we are still making memories.
For too many families, there comes a point when caregiving for a loved one at home becomes logistically impossible. So then, what’s left to hold onto in this journey of caregiving? Affection surely tops the list, including blowing kisses! It’s the task-oriented caring that understandably slips after placing a loved one — a necessary shift. Doing my Mom’s laundry still remains top on my list. Here’s why:
1. Mom’s laundry tells me a lot about how the task of dressing her is accomplished. Crumpled inside-out socks or matched-up and rolled together? Soiled clothing thrown in the hamper or neatly placed in a plastic bag to protect the non-soiled clothing. These are subtle signs of the manner and pace with which CNAs attend to my mother.
2. Mom’s laundry is a measure of what she still owns. Her wedding rings are gone; lost or taken by a shower aid while still at home (sadly, we suspect the latter). Her “home” has been reduced to a room shared with another woman stricken with dementia. I’ve penned her name inside each piece of clothing. This laundry defines her favorite colors, her style, and complements her beauty. I take care of these things that are still part of her everyday life.
3. Mom’s laundry sometimes needs a little mending. A small tear or a seam loosened from countless renditions of dressing and undressing. Taking care of these small mending tasks adds to my sense of helpfulness amid mother’s helplessness. There’s a bit of heart-mending there too. It also communicates to her professional care team that I care about the little details; there are powerful messages in the subtleties.
4. Mom’s laundry shows me something about her meal times. Are her clothes stained from being determined to feed herself? Bibs (let’s call them aprons, please) are available and thankfully used more often than not. You see, feeding herself isn’t only a matter of dignity, it’s a matter of health. Every engaged task means neurons are firing inside her brain. So, if the apron is forgotten, I celebrate that she’s doing it herself when we’re not there coaching along.
5. Doing Mom’s laundry is a caregiving opportunity. The more Alzheimer’s robs loved ones of their capacities, the more it also robs us caregivers of ours, too. Our ability to affect change is slowly, and painfully, stripped away. The decision to place my mother in a long-term-care facility was a process. A process of acceptance by looking deeply and honestly at our inadequacies. In facing our weaknesses we are reminded of the gift of humility. We are not helpless when we can still be helpful — even in the smallest capacity. There are many things we are no longer able to do for Mom. So, that’s why I do my Mom’s laundry. Amid all my weaknesses, it is something I can do with great love. And, after all, love is our greatest strength.