Yesterday was a difficult day with my Mom, who is struggling with aphasia (an inability to find your words) and dementia. There were tears (both of us), heartbreaking apologies (her) and a lot of hugging and reassuring (me). When I left her at the end of the day to go back to my cat and a late dinner, the image of her tear-streaked face followed me.
I carried the weight of this through my evening routine. I began wondering if she was OK, and if I should check in on her. I kept going over everything I had said and done, wondering if I could have done it better, differently. Finally, unable to stop the circle of worry that had invaded my brain, I picked up the phone and called her.
She sounded fine, even cheerful. "Why are you calling?" she asked, because the reality is that she usually calls me, not the other way around. "Oh, I was just wondering if you're feeling better," I asked casually. "I'm fine!" she said, "Was I not fine before?" And I realized that she had completely forgotten our tear-soaked afternoon. I quickly distracted her by switching the conversation to the weather and other trivial stuff.
My point? They forget. We don't. Caregivers carry the burden of the sorrows we experience, which can pile up in the corner like discarded garments. They accumulate, because we don't have the "forget filter" of dementia. Lingering and growing, these sorrows become a serious source of stress, sleeplessness, constant worrying and anxiety. They can also become a touchstone for our self-pity, a place we go to for a form of negative comfort. Ultimately, the weight of that sorrow can flatten us into dullness and depression.
Yesterday was a reminder that, as caregivers, we need to lighten up. Relieve ourselves of the burden of sorrow. Put it down, shake it off, understand that we needn't shoulder it forever, or alone. There is a zen in forgetfulness. If my mother can let it go, why can't I?