When I was a girl, my mother often called me by my older sisters’ name. It was funny in a way because that usually happened when I was in deep trouble. I once loved that her first instinct was to think of my sister at those times.
Fast forward to 2013 when I was writing my regency romance novel, An Improper Proposal. I had by then come to the realization that there was nothing about my mother’s faulty memory that was funny. Yes, mum still calls me Jenny rather than Heather fairly often, but there were other things she was doing that had crept into her habits that concerned me. The repeated offers of food and drinks, especially to my kids, and frequent calls for help to find misplaced items within their home were becoming a common event.
The changes in mum were so slow at first that I just accepted them like everyone else in my family and carried on in my full-time writing bubble. Until I couldn’t ignore the fact that the woman who’d raised me, taught me everything I knew, was slowly disappearing.
I want my mum back!
My mother has late stage Alzheimer’s, a disease that has stolen her recent memories and jumbled the rest, decimated her skills and experiences, eroded her happiness, and created so much anxiety in her that it is almost unbearable to witness. She has become paranoid, fatalistic, and incredibly insecure about her place in the world.
Readers often ask if I’ve ever created a character based on a real person. I did once. Mum’s earlier behavior certainly defined some of the traits of a side character in An Improper Proposal. At the time I had no idea how bad it could be. There’s nothing I can do to help mum or make her remember her life. The most I can do is try to reassure her that she is loved and wanted.
The last year has been emotionally challenging for me, and I’m easily moved to tears by the smallest things—like writing this post or my mum asking if I have a boyfriend when I’ve been happily married for 25 years.
I’ve learned a few things about stress tolerance and patience in the last six months when circumstances have required me to drop everything to be there for my parents. A full time writing week has become a memory. I miss getting lost in a new story so much, but it is what it is. I have to adapt.
There is nothing comfortable about change. I have let a lot of stuff go to keep my sanity intact, and everyone else’s for that matter. If it is not possible to do everything I want anymore, I certainly intend to do what makes me comfortable. It took me a while to get to find my happy zone, but here’s my suggestions if you are ever faced with a long term complication like mine:
- Step back and decide what’s most important to do personally, and don’t put your health last just because the dishes are dirty.
- Delegate or Delete. My kids are old enough to be trusted in the kitchen, so they each cook one meal a week. I’m on hand to offer advice, but I love that precious time of not being responsible. My youngest son is fourteen and does his laundry now too which helps to offset the extra hours I spend each week to help my parents manage their home too.
- Share. My life these days has become all about writing, but I’ve always been hesitant about sharing too much out of respect for my family’s privacy. However, hiding what’s going on with mum is nearly impossible. I need other people to understand why I might be too busy to help them or perpetually run late.
- Chill out and shut down. I’m doing the best I can, but life occasionally is just too damn hard. I need to stop worrying. I chill out best watching movies like Wall-E and John Wick.
- The last one is the hardest and the easiest—let go of what’s been lost, live in the moment and make new memories. Alzheimer’s sucks, and while mum still recognizes me, there is no reason not to help her live the best life possible. That’s my new plan for the future.
Oh, and a word of advice—no matter how horrible it is to think of this stuff get your legal affairs in order so your end of life is less terrifying for the ones you love. One day they might have to make decisions for you because you can’t do it anymore.
Take good care of yourself and cheers!
About Heather Boyd
Bestselling historical author Heather Boyd believes every character she creates deserves their own happily-ever-after, no matter how much trouble she puts them through. With that goal in mind, she writes sizzling regency romance stories that skirt the boundaries of propriety to keep readers enthralled until the wee hours of the morning. Heather has published over thirty stories. She lives north of Sydney, Australia, and does her best to wrangle her testosterone-fueled family (including cat Morpheus) into submission. Connect with Heather at: