Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dementia-The Unexpected Gift

(My mom and I
Photo by Tammy Shoemaker, OSB)
We grew up in a very strong Catholic family. A saying I always heard around the house was, “As long as you live in this house, you will go to church.” We had bedtime curfews, rules for doing homework, supper rituals and chores. On the flip side, I remember having wonderful birthday parties, holidays with the family and a deep sense of love and safety in my family.

When I was a teenager, my youth tricked my psyche into believing in forever. I thought I had all the time in the world. My mom and I were very close, but we were also very different, so we spent a lot of wasteful time in disagreement, though I also knew she was my number one advocate.

My mother was very sharp and she loved to talk. She always remembered birthdays, names and any opportunity to play cards with her friends. She prided herself on knowing all fifty state capitols. Though she was a shrewd card player, athletics was not her forte. Our family played many games of cards together, but when it came to our family badminton games, mom was put on the team with my older brother who hit all her shots. She, in turn, would playfully hit him with her racket.

While my mom and I sometimes had a tumultuous relationship, we spent lots 
(Twin Hats
Photo by Tammy Shoemaker, OSB)
of time together. One memorable trip: we decided to go to the Smokey Mountains for the day. It was a five-hour drive, but we had a great time. We talked most of the way, had lunch, shopped and came back home. Another time, we decided to take off driving and ended up in South Carolina! We did not even have a reservation, but were able to spend a night on the beach. It was delightful.

It was not until I went home for a family visit after my first profession that I realized the deplorable conditions my mother was living in. She was not able to or willing to walk, to go up in our kitchen, get out with friends or do the things she used to do so well. I realized that I could not leave my mom like this. At this time, I was not aware of what was going on with my mom and truly thought it was depression.

With the blessing of my community, I was able to bring my mom up to Minnesota with me. I found her a place close by where I could still live community life fully, but also tend to the needs of my mom. We soon discovered that my mother had dementia.

I have never known anyone with dementia personally. I have only heard things about it, so I had NO idea what to expect. The first months of this were very difficult for me. As I said, my mom and I always had a tumultuous, but loving, relationship. When my mom would say things, I found myself disputing her. I got her into a facility that not only cared for my mother, but helped me to learn how to respond to her.

(Painted Nails
Photo by Tammy Shoemaker, OSB)
I have to say it has been the most heart-wrenching experience I have ever been through, but it has changed me immensely in the process. I have learned not to argue with my mom. Whatever she says, I make a conversation out of it even if I have no idea what we are talking about. I have entered her world and accepted her as she is. In that, I have received a gift of peace in my heart. It has not only changed the way I think of and deal with my own mom, but it has caused a deeper change in me in all my relationships. I have learned to be a more kind, compassionate and merciful person. My mom makes me laugh out loud at times. I don’t resent her in any way, but enjoy her company. We paint her nails every week (she even lets me paint them wild colors), go for rides, have supper, play cards that she still loves, watch her favorite show “Everyone Loves Raymond” and sometimes I just hold her hand and kiss her.

I have become a care-taker for my mom in the way that I knew someday I would, but not so early and not for this reason. My daily plea to God is to safeguard my mother's humanity and dignity. I am her number one advocate and cheerleader like she was so many times for me. I am not ready to think about it right now, but I know God will take my mom from me someday. I thank God every day for our gift of time together and our newfound loving relationship. I am the lucky one to still have a loving mother that I can give to today because tomorrow may be too late.

If you are one of the many people dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia, I pray for your strength and believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that you will receive an unexpected gift.
Tammy Shoemaker, OSB


  1. Great job Tammy, great job taking care of my little cousin. I remember when she was born, I was about 12 or 13. Your grandpa Elmer had just come home from WW II. He was in the
    signal Corps. During this time he had fallen off a telephone pole and hurt his back permanently. Lived in pain most of the time after that. Your grandmother Evelyn, was a redheaded hazel eyed Irish Saint. Your father, John, Jesus provided you with a great father and an all family man. Wonderful sense of humor. I remember before Rosie & John's wedding your grandmother commented what a great fellow John was, and her brother John chimed in and said "all John's are great" - I know it is heart breaking to watch you Mother go down piece by piece. Remember the 'Golden Rule' and know in your heart that you are doing EXACTLY what Jesus wants you to be doing, or this would not be taking place. My love to you, Rosie and may God Bless and hold you in the Palm of His Hand. Love, cousin Sonny Schott

  2. Thank you Sonny! That made me cry. I love hearing stories about my mom and dad! She sure loved her cousins. She actually talks about LaVerne the most...I think because we played cards with her so much with Aunt Nonie and Bridget. With my grandma too. I am so thankful she is here with me. I do thank God everyday for her! Thanks again Sonny! God bless you!