There is a Facebook post doing the rounds of the social networks that has come my way a few times now. It tells the story of a young woman, Melinda, who comes across an older woman, Mary, who is lost. It turns out that Mary has Alzheimer’s and Melinda ends up spending the day with her, becoming fond of her, and taking her home.
As pleased as I was to read that Melinda got Mary home safely, I found myself feeling disturbed by this story and even a little angry. I’ll tell you why. I was horrified by Melinda’s denigration of Mary’s daughter. She recounts the woman’s dislike of her “grumpy” daughter and describes a somewhat cold response to her phone call and ultimate homecoming.
I don’t know their circumstances, but my first thought was that we don’t know why the daughter could not pick up her mother. The writer leaves that unsaid, but with enough innuendo that we assume she is being callous. However, I can think of a dozen reasons why she might not be able to pick her up; perhaps she has a sick child, perhaps she is a surgeon in the middle of surgery, perhaps her employer will not allow her to leave in the middle of a shift. We are not given a reason; we are left to make our own assumptions.
I also noted that the son is very helpful when he is not working. So, presumably, his sister has to take up the slack when he is working, which is probably most of the day. If she is the primary caregiver for her mother, she has my sympathy. I don’t know much about Alzheimer’s but I know a lot about long-term caregiving. It is relentless. No matter how much you might love the person you are caring for, your ideal self flies out the window within the first six months. And, yes, you become grumpy.
Older people sometimes wander, and when they do their caregiver worries. Every time. If they don’t know where they are, the caregiver and/or family can spend hours trying to track them down. In the process they may miss work, appointments, children’s activities, or even just an hour’s peace. We are told that Mary’s daughter rolled her eyes when she returned and she did not thank Melinda for bringing her back. This does, indeed, seem unkind but it may also just be the outcome of protracted tension. If you have ever yelled at a child after they have been lost in a store or at a teenager who gets home after midnight, you know that feeling.
Can we all please agree that caregivers of all kinds deserve our support, and that we should reserve judgement until we have walked a mile in their shoes? While we are at it, can we please do what we can to support research into a cure for Alzheimer’s and to promote respite care for caregivers? There are lots of daughters and sons out there trying to care for elderly parents, sometimes while raising their own children, and every one of them needs a break.
Recommended Reading: The 36-Hour Day by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins