Could This Caregiver Learn to Care for Herself, Too?

This prolific author needed to spend some time away from home to write her new book. Could she allow herself to leave her mother, who was dealing with Alzheimer's, for a while?

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- Posted on Jun 23, 2017

Janice learned to share her mother's care with others.

Wow,” Crystal said. My friend was clutching the white railing of the ferry taking us to Martha’s Vineyard. We had come a long way to see this island. Flying from Texas to Boston. Spending a night in Cape Cod before catching the 6 a.m. ferry. Now, at long last, the island was coming into view. Sailboats dotted the coastline, sails snapping in the breeze. Wooden piers and green cliffs jutted out over the water. Crystal turned to me and smiled before looking back toward the island. “It’s beautiful.”

“Uh-huh,” I said and walked back to the covered portion of the deck. The glare from the sun was making it hard to read my text messages. I scrolled through them, wondering how things were going back home. Had my daughter Megan remembered how to use the video monitor in the bedroom? Had I explained to give Mom her chai tea first and then a glass of cranberry-grape juice for breakfast?

Mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010. There’d never been any question of who would take care of her. I moved in immediately. Raising four daughters had been hectic, but it was nothing compared to caring for Mom 24/7. She had always been as sharp as a tack. Quick to laugh or make a joke. She fought the disease at first, but soon she was forgetting names, dates and details of her personal history. It wasn’t just memory either. When she spoke, it was in monosyllabic, nearly unintelligible phrases, and she became so attached to me that I couldn’t leave the room without her crying. Her dependence only grew as the disease progressed.

CHECK OUT A FREE PREVIEW OF JANICE'S BOOK, A FISH OUT OF WATER

Mom still loved to travel though. We took several trips that summer of 2016. Went on a cruise, drove across Texas, spent a week at the beach. It was the only way I was able to keep my sanity. I needed the breaks from our routine, and Mom seemed to enjoy the change of scenery.

So when I had the opportunity to write a book set in Martha’s Vineyard, going there seemed perfect. Mom would get to see Cape Cod, and I would get to do what I love most: write. I booked tickets for a fall trip.

But by September, Mom was fighting a series of infections. Then she suffered a bad fall. There was no way she could travel. Which meant there was no way I could travel. And if I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t write my book. Writing wasn’t just my passion; it was my livelihood. I churned out as many as eight books a year.

Though taking care of Mom slowed me down some, I still found time to write. But writing was getting more difficult. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without my mom getting anxious about my whereabouts. Every five minutes brought another interruption. Writing might be my livelihood, but taking care of Mom was a duty, a cross I willingly bore. Something I felt God had asked me to do.

The morning after her fall, I stood in the kitchen, making Mom’s cup of chai tea. Was it time to give up my writing altogether?

Bible Verses for Alzheimer's Caregivers

If I went to Martha’s Vineyard now, who would be there to watch Mom? Who would want to spend a long weekend doling out medications and trying to interpret her monosyllabic phrases?

And yet I couldn’t rid myself of the nagging feeling that I needed to go. In fact, it grew more urgent. With only 36 hours until my flight, I pulled out my phone and texted Crystal. “What are you doing the day after tomorrow? Want to go to Massachusetts with me?” Then I started calling family members to see if they could help with Mom.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” I began when I proposed the idea to my daughter Megan.

“I’m happy to help,” she said before I’d even finished. In fact, she seemed almost excited.

Four people stepped up to help with Mom while I was away. I wrestled with guilt from the moment I texted Crystal. Although I’d obsessively made lists—a timetable for each medication, the phone number for all Mom’s doctors and therapists—I worried my family wouldn’t be able to handle it.

If I could just make the most of this time, it would all be worth it.

The journey to Cape Cod had gone smoothly. Except for the incessant beeping from my phone. Was it okay for Mom to go to bed at 6 p.m.? Should Mom be allowed to buy whatever she wanted at the grocery store?

I was exhausted before we even set foot on the Vineyard ferry. I’d spent the night in Cape Cod tossing and turning.

“I hope Mom’s okay,” I said to Crystal, coming out from under the ferry’s awning, phone in hand. “I feel guilty enjoying all of this while making other people take care of her.”

Crystal wrapped her arm around my shoulders.

“God can take care of it. Maybe you need to let him,” she said. “Besides, you didn’t make anyone do anything. They’re probably enjoying the chance to spend time with their grandma. Why should you have all the fun?”

Was Crystal right? Was it time to let go? By hoarding all the caregiving responsibilities for Mom, I wasn’t just robbing myself of rest; I was robbing my family of time to spend with her. I slid my cell phone into my purse and allowed myself to truly take in the view. It was stunning. Rust-colored cliffs melted into grassy pastures. White clapboard houses and wooden canoes lined the shore.

The knots in my stomach finally began to unwind.

It was hard enough to lose my mom to Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t lose myself too. I couldn’t be a good caregiver if I didn’t take care of myself. I needed breaks. Adventure. Time to write. And to do that, I needed to trust other people to look after her. Trust that the Lord was taking caring of us both.

“I’m so glad you texted me,” Crystal said, her eyes fixed on the enchanting island in front of us.

“Me, too,” I said. “It’s going to make a big difference for the book. And for me too.”

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Book cover for Janice Thompsons Like a Fish Out of Water Janice Thompson is the author of Like a Fish Out of Water, part of the new mystery series from Guideposts Books, Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard. Set on the historic New England island, these novels are packed with mystery, romance and faith. Follow the adventures of Kansas farm girl Priscilla Latham Grant when she inherits a lighthouse and keeper’s cottage on the Vineyard. For a free preview, go to guideposts.org/marthasvineyard.
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