Whole Heart In

Momma kissing hand crop

My mom wasn’t my best friend. We had a really difficult relationship through my childhood up until I got out from under her roof in my mid-twenties. When I returned to my childhood home to care for her and my father four and a half years ago, I was resistant and terrified. Would our old patterns of animosity show up? What resentment was still buried in my heart? How would I work through my pain in order to serve as the most tender and responsive caregiver possible? It was never my dad. He was the soft parent, the nurturer, the one who’d cry along with us if one of his children came to him with heartache. But mom was cold and hard and aloof (though Dad never saw her this way). I understand it all so much better now. She wasn’t cruel or unfeeling. She was feeling too much! And it overwhelmed her and made her anxious. And she was constantly defending against this fear, though she never knew how to tell us so. She was like a rose or a thistle or a fragrant cactus – you had to be willing to brave the prickle to experience the rare beauty she kept protected. My dad only ever saw the beauty and felt the generosity of her blooming heart. I only ever felt the prickle. But I’ve changed. Distance and soul searching had helped me begin the process of opening my own heart to her and relating to her not just as my mother, but as a woman who had lived through a despairing amount of trauma in her days. I had to see far beyond who I thought she should be as a mother in order to learn her and love her for who she is. Over the last years caring for her day in and day out I have had uncountable opportunities to practice this acceptance. And whether it’s the progression of her Alzheimer’s that has softened her or something else, I am able to be with her now whole heart in feeling constantly that warm pull that draws you close to another. And now all I ever want is to be close to her. All I ever see is her beauty. All I ever know is her love.

#mymommamyheart #alzheimers #endalz #alzheimersawareness #iamacaregiver #dementia #dementiaawareness #caregiving #earlyonsetalzheimers

Crossposted from Instagram

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  • Reply Katie January 12, 2016 at 10:50 am

    So beautiful Elizabeth!! I can relate my mother has softened with her Alzheimer’s and holding her hand is now a thrill. This disease is tragic but we have slowed down & had some special moments with Mom. We learn more & more acceptance & then the ultimate acceptance of letting her go. Not quite there because selfishly I’ll always want to hug my mother & look into her eyes.

    • Reply elizabethgracewolf January 12, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Katie! I know we connected over on Instagram, but I wanted to tell you that you and your sweet, dear mom have been in my thoughts all day. Your dad too! I revisited some of your older posts to hear them singing together, and my heart goes out to you in a big way. So much love to you all <3

  • Reply Susan March 4, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Hello Elizabeth, I saw your piece in the NYT (congratulations!). So moving. My 93 yr old mother with dementia has been living with me and our family for 11 years now (and counting). My husband, like yours, is amazing. Patient and generous. My mother was also really tough when I was younger. Sometimes she comes across as vulnerable now but I think she is also very angry about her dementia and it has made her incredibly grumpy and hostile. I know she’s frustrated and she misses my dad (who died 16 yrs ago). We also thought about having her in assisted living but I know she’d respond much like your dad. I couldn’t take it. So here we are.

    I’m subscribing to your blog.

  • Reply Peggy Wright March 5, 2016 at 10:00 am

    I have only recently discovered the depths (irony here) of my own mother’s short term memory. She tells me, when we are alone, that she can be reading, will close the magazine, and not remember anything that she has read. I do not feel that this is Alzheimer’s. She is living in a very old apartment building with very old plumbing. Not being educated, she has not read about the dangers of lead ingestion.
    I know that we are all concerned about the dangers of lead toxicity in children. In my research, I have discovered that lead ingestion can lead to memory loss in adults, as well as other maladies. In reading my mother’s medication protocols I have discovered that one of her anti-anxiety medications also has the side effect (as if this effect is like ordering broccoli or slaw-making the effect seems inconsequential) of memory loss and confusion.
    All that I am saying is that I intend to investigate the lead issue and advocate for more efficacy in her medication regimen. Indeed, I am questioning the effects of our environment, internally and externally, on our cognition and our mental health.

  • Reply Tafi March 8, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Dear Elizabeth, I just finished reading “Living With the Parents I’m Losing to Alzheimers” in today’s NY Times. Blessings for you! I know what you are going through even though your circumstances and my circumstances were not the same. I was in a very similar situation for years. When it was all over I saw something positive, a gift brought by a horrible disease and incurable condition: my mother’s dementia (in her case frontal lobe dementia) allowed me to love her, to show my love for her, in an honest, simple and pure way, in my own way, in “the now” that it was at that time, that would not otherwise have been possible for me. For that I am very grateful. Good strength and lots of Love to you on this trying journey,

  • Reply Beth Spadafora April 18, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    How beautiful. I feel similarly about my parents. They were always like a wall to me. They so frequently seemed disapproving of choices I made in my life. They were not particularly warm and fuzzy. As their dementias progressed and I could see their vulnerabilities and the sweetness underneath, l learned to love them in a deeper way. I actually feel privileged to have had the opportunity to relate to both of them in this new way. One can never wish for this awful illness, yet I have come to know my parents in a much more intimate way than ever before and I appreciate that.

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