It has been a difficult six months since I last wrote about our Alzheimer’s journey, and many changes have occurred. Recently, after much soul-searching, angst, prayer, and flip-flopping, I made the decision to move Byron into Memory Care at Buckner Westminster Place (“The Harbor”). I felt like it was the right move for both of us for different reasons. As eventually happens with all Alzheimer’s patients, it became increasingly difficult, confusing and anxiety-producing for Byron to be outside of his comfort zone, which for him meant staying home most of the time. His world became much smaller. He was sometimes sad and lonely, and I was close to exhaustion – physically and emotionally. (Anyone who’s ever been a long-term caregiver knows what I mean.)
The losses your loved one experiences accelerate rapidly as the disease progresses. As a caregiver, you find yourself constantly grieving and saying goodbye to one loss after another. Each goodbye starts flowing into the next, creating an ocean of grief in which you can become perilously close to drowning. This is where I found myself when I made the decision that it was time to consider Memory Care.
Byron has been at Buckner a month now, and it has been an almost seamless transition for him. I am so grateful to the wonderful staff for loving him and making him feel welcome from the very beginning. They were already like family to both us because of the time he had spent there in respite care these past two years. I am also grateful to the kind and caring residents in The Harbor who have reached out with unconditional love and received him into their community.
I realize now this is exactly what Byron needed – an accepting community in which to flourish and share his gift of music and joie de vivre. Music has always been a huge part of Byron’s life, and one of the many ways through which he has ministered to others all these years. He considers it a way he can give back and make a difference in the quality of someone’s day.
A few months ago he offered this prayer at the dinner table: “God, I would like to say if there is someone over there who has a need that I could help, I would be over there with them.” I wrote it down word for word in my journal because it touched me so. Shortly after the move, I came across it again and realized that God had indeed answered Byron’s prayer. He is now “over there with them,” just as he asked to be. He plays the guitar for residents and staff every day and brings his unique Christ-light as well as fun to the unit. They often tell him how much they enjoy his music, and it makes him feel so good. I am so happy that, once again, he has been given the opportunity to share his gift with others. It helps him know that his life still has purpose.
As for my adjustment, letting go and allowing someone else to take the reins of Byron’s care is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do in my life. I didn’t realize I would have such a difficult time giving up control, even though I knew I couldn’t do it alone anymore. Many days, tentacles of worry and anxiety have clutched at my thoughts and heart these past few weeks, and I would wonder all the time how Byron was doing, even though he was fine during our daily visits. I had to remind myself constantly of why I made the decision, and of all the ways being in a memory care unit with an excellent trained staff and a community of peers could benefit him. (The staff was amazingly patient with me through all this.) I missed Byron and felt disoriented when I momentarily forgot he was not in the house anymore. Some days as I walked from room to room, the memories would make me cry. Songs would make me cry, as well as coming across sweet notes he had written. But, I could also go for several days at a time and not cry at all – numbness, I think.
Then, one day this week I woke up and the worry and anxiety were gone – a huge answer to prayer. I’m praising the Lord. I find that I can grieve and still have joy. Hopefully, I am through the worst of the adjustment period and beginning the process of trusting God…and finally beginning to let go.
“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
"Break the silence and make it a song..."
"Live it Well" by Switchfoot