Mom’s Dementia And My Journey To Acceptance

“Whoever is present are the right people. Whenever it begins is the right time. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened. And when it’s over, it’s over.” -Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required
Written By Jaime Pollard-Smith

Remember times in life when you were so happy to gain acceptance? I was accepted to Appalachian State University, New York University, and different internships or programs. It was means for celebration.

Then, this week my mom got her final letter of acceptance. Hospice welcomed mom into their care. Only this acceptance was an unforeseen, debilitating punch in the gut that doubled me over in instant nausea.

Here I sit trying to process this news. Mom will receive home health care. Dad will get the extra help he needs. They will provide her medical care and work to keep her comfortable. It should be welcome news at this stage, but I am still working on convincing myself.

I just read yet another amazing book by Anne Lamott. Anyone who knows me knows that I want to be her best friend. I have said it for years. She has practically helped to raise me. I have read all Lamott’s books at every stage of my life. She helped me when I was a stumbling, paranoid mess as a new mother. She got me. She always knew just what to say. When I started asking the difficult questions in life – there she was trying to figure it all out.

Her raw, gorgeous and terrifying vulnerability reverberated and echoed through the chambers of my heart. Through the years her words have been a lighthouse guiding me back to my true self, so it would only make sense that she would show up to offer her unique concoction of humour, experience and naked truth when my mom is dying.

Whoever is present are the right people.

Hospice are the right people for this job even though I am annoyed and angry at the moment that they get to be the ones to “accept” my mom into the last six months of her life. They decided she was close enough to death to deserve their help. According to their website, “At the center of hospice and palliative care is the belief that each of us has the right to die pain-free and with dignity, and that our families will receive the necessary support to allow us to do so.” Ouch.

But I know you are right again, Anne Lamott. They are the right people. My boss, who recently lost a parent and a close family friend, has been a steady source of encouragement. She described Hospice from her recent experience: “They are wonderful people. If we could only begin to see it as representing comfort rather than death.” Comfort, yes we could take some of that right now. The family, specifically my dad, will get some much-needed support.

Whenever it begins is the right time.

Is there ever really a good time for your mom to die? We know the answer to that question. Days like Christmas and Mother’s Day will sting regardless. It won’t be easier when I am a year older. Winter cold won’t help to numb the pain. Summer heat will not burn away the tears. The time is now, and it will be right.

A close friend sent me this shattering and beautifully haunting text the day mom got her acceptance letter:

“You’ve been learning to dance with a limp for a while now and it’s been a beautifully courageous process to witness. This is your experience and only you can fully appreciate it. But you will not go through it alone. You are never alone. So go vomit, scream, cry, laugh, play and live. Be confused, angry, sad and happy. Lean on your tribe and share your experiences.”

See, Anne Lamott, you were more right than you ever knew. This awful, painful, humbling and piercing moment is exactly right. My quirky and passionate tribe will help me catch the shattering pieces and let me step all over their toes as I stumble to put one foot in front of the other.

Whatever happens, is the only thing that could have happened.

What in the world did I expect? Mom is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. It’s not like she was going to get better. It has to end, and now we have people trained to help us take the final steps of this closing chapter.

If she could understand, I would tell mom that this ending would make her proud. “Dad gave his all loving you for every single minute, Mom.” He welcomed Hospice because it meant he could have the help he needed for mom to end her life at home with him by her side, not in a nursing facility. In that regard, maybe this is not the only thing that could have happened, but it is our story and how we handled the tattered and torn hand we were dealt.

And when it’s over, it’s over.

Last week, I told a few of my best friends that I had decided everything was going to be okay. Mom was going to die, and I would be okay. She will let go, and it will be over. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I will breathe a huge sigh of relief somewhere in between my sobbing bouts of anguish. There will be relief that she no longer has to exist in this hollow shell. She will be free. Her work here will be done – and it was beautiful work.

Yes, it will be over. The battle will be over. The sickness and deterioration will be over. The balled fists and clenched teeth of frustration will be over. But when one thing ends, another must begin. I will start anew in this world without my mom. Don’t they say you are never truly grown until you lose a parent? Alas, I will arrive at the gates of adulthood.

Jaime Pollard-Smith is a full-time writing instructor with a Master of Arts from New York University. She is a reader, writer, nature lover, lifter and wandering soul trying to figure it all out. She has been writing and documenting her family’s journey with Alzheimer’s.

Read her “Unbecoming” blog here:

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