Word of the Week: Anger

IMG_2901Confession time.

I remember a day about three and a half years ago, when Mom had been in Atlanta a few months and I was learning how to deal with her dementia. (I still am, but the learning curve was very steep at that point.)

I had taken her somewhere (church? dinner? a park?), and it had been a long day. I was tired. Frustrated. So was she, I suppose. As we walked from the car toward her assisted living, she started reciting with gentle resignation how sad she was about moving away from home. It was a litany I would come to know by heart:

“You girls don’t have time for me. I took my mother for a walk every day, and brought her to my house after church every week for Sunday dinner. But you don’t do those things for me. You have such busy lives . . . .”  Et cetera.

On this particular day, my sister was out of town. My brother and his wife were also traveling, and weren’t catching their phone calls. I hadn’t found a support group or counselor. I felt totally alone.

I helped Mom into her living room, and then I let her have it:

“I take you to church every Sunday, and I take you out every day! You don’t remember because you are losing your memory! But I do plenty for you, and so does my sister. Don’t you DARE say we don’t take care of you the way you took care of your mother, because we do!”

That may not be an exact quote (I don’t trust memory anymore), but that’s what I was feeling: hurt, defensive, and furious. And I made sure she knew it.

Did it help?

Oh, hell no.

Maybe it felt good to blow off steam. But Mom’s face turned ashen, and I was quickly overcome with shame and regret. She probably started to cry; I don’t remember. She was horribly upset, because she had made me angry and didn’t know what she’d done. And I was shaking like a leaf, because I’d lost my temper and accomplished nothing.

Fortunately, I was able to leave her in safe hands and go home. I reached my brother and sister within a few hours, and they talked me off the emotional ledge. They understood; they’d been there. And, amazingly, Mom and I got through it. Once I calmed down, I came up with a version of the incident we could both live with: I told her that she hadn’t done a thing to make me mad. I’d just had a bad day and needed to vent. Thanks to her dementia, she didn’t remember exactly what I’d said, only that I’d been angry. So she took the high road: 

“Well, honey, I’m your mother. Your feelings are always safe with me.”

Poof! In a little sleight-of-hand illusion called the “therapeutic lie,” Mom became the hero, and peace was restored. She’ll never know how furious I was. She’s long since forgotten the whole thing. But I haven’t. I learned a valuable lesson that day: when dealing with dementia, I’d rather be at peace than be right.

I still get angry. I may never stop being angry at the disease, at what it’s done to my mother, at the gap between what she needs and what our culture currently provides for people like her. I just try not to take my anger out on her. Like me, she’s doing her best to deal with this dementia.

Unlike me, she can’t take a break from it.

9 thoughts on “Word of the Week: Anger

  1. Oh I know that feeling so well!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have yet to blow. Have come close to it, but given it’s my MIL and not my own mum, not sure my husband would ever forgive me if I did…

  2. You know that the mom of a young person with significant cognitive and behavioral challenges wrestles with this too. I look back on the early years of mothering my daughter with great sadness for both of us. Going through it, facing her, and especially MY limitations as honestly as I could ended up deepening my capacity to love and parent. For that I am grateful. And I would still give anything to have not failed her at all, to not have had to learn anger management in the crucible of anger. You write so beautifully.

  3. My heart goes out to you always, but especially when I read of your trials and daily concern for and with our Mom. I hope you can feel the “back-up”,move and support from afar as you go through all of this.

  4. I know how it is to lose one’s temper when dealing with your loved one with dementia. I cared for my brother J.R. in my home for 2 years and blew my top several times. Did it do any good – of course not. My stress did not just come from dealing with one brother with dementia. My mother died in a nursing home with dementia.
    All 3 of my siblings are in different stages of dementia. I am the 2nd child of 4 and I do not know why I am still standing. My sister is in hospice with her dementia now, my youngest brother is in the early stages of dementia. My brother J.R. is entering the final stages of his dementia, so I fought DHS through a lawyer for 5 months to get Medicaid for long term care and won a few months ago. J.R. is now in a nursing home. Stress is my middle name, but patience is not. Sometimes when you deal with someone with dementia you think you are living in an insane asylum.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s