Reprinted by permission of the Spokesman-Review.
This care giving man defies statistics and stereotypes. You hear little about us but we exist, do our best.
_Special to Opinion Spokane _
By Jerry Ham
Recently, The Spokesman-Review ran an article on how hard it is to take care of an elderly parent in the home. I read the article with interest because I am the primary care giver for a woman who is 73 and has end-stage Alzheimer's disease.
She is someone I have known all of my life. I have seen her good side and her bad side. But with the onset of Alzheimer's, which began at least seven years ago, I have seen behavior I would never have thought possible. I have watched as she progressed from being a kind, loving person to someone mean, vindictive and angry. She has threatened to kill me and has even accused me of sexual abuse.
I became her care giver on December 29, 1995. Now, she spends her days talking to long-departed relatives. She speaks in rambling and rarely completed sentences. She asks: ``Did you know that I killed my daddy yesterday?'' Or: ``Did you know that Daddy can't come home because he killed me yesterday?''
Alzheimer's has pulled her into another world and locked the door behind her. It is a world of distorted memories, a world that I am unable to enter. She can do nothing for herself. I get her up, toilet her, dress her, cook her food and feed her. I tell her to open her mouth and then swallow. When she walks, I hold both hands to guide her. She has no sense of reality. She no longer knows me.
I'm her care giver. I have experienced depression, anxiety and exhaustion, but according to the statistics, I don't exist. You see, I am a man. The woman I care for every day is my mother. You rarely hear or read anything about male care givers, but we do exist and in reality, there are far more of us than statistics would indicate.
For some of my male colleagues, care giving is much harder than it is for women, because they suddenly find themselves doing things that they were never prepared for.
But I'm very grateful to be able to give back to my mother, who gave so much to me. I've expressed this in the poems I write.
Momma, there's so much I'd like to say. But you're in a world that's so far away. How can I tell you what I feel in my heart? When Alzheimer's has pulled us so far apart? There is one thing that will always be true. I love you so much. Momma, thank you.
Here is the above poem in it's entirety...
Momma, there’s much that I’d like to say,
But you’re in a world that’s so far away.
When you look at me Momma, you no longer see,
The son you gave birth to, the man that is me.
How can I tell you what I feel in my heart?
When Alzheimer's has pulled us so far apart.
Momma, thank you for giving me life,
And standing beside me through all of the strife.
I know it was hard, there were days it was bad.
Trying to rear me without the help of a dad.
You taught me to stand, to walk and to run.
Times were tough, but I was your son.
Then you remarried, and no better man,
Could you have found, to meet life’s demands.
Your love would last for forty-seven years,
You lived through trials, triumphs and tears.
Two handicapped children, it had to be rough.
But you showed us when necessary, you could be tough.
Momma, thank you, for the lessons you taught.
You showed me that character could not be bought.
Now, many years later, our roles are reversed,
The scenes we play now, we could not rehearse.
Oh there are times when I stumble and fall,
But I pray “God, help me to answer the call.”
There is one thing that will always be true.
I love you so much.
© 1998, Jerry Ham