Sunday, February 12, 2017

Patron Saint of Communication. Pray to St. Gabriel for Help in Caring for Those with Dementia


Somewhere in the deepest crevices of my brain I have stored the love I still feel for my late mother. I put it somewhere near my enchantment with tulips and close to my infatuation with creativity, in the special place where my heart still dances. While I am not a brain scientist I do know I have one and like my car, I've learned more about it the longer I use it. Once in a while you hear the sound of a different engine.  You look to see a Maserati humming past. Sometimes my brain runs like the Maserati and other times it runs like a clunker in need of a tune up. I like the Maserati best.

There is the executive function part of my brain where I have stored the memories of the challenges taking care of my mother presented.  This is the part of my brain that deals with lists and procedures, figuring out how best to care for her, the area where it seemed black or white, right or wrong, healthy or sick, either/or.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple when the one you care for is gradually losing their mind. Blending the bittersweet love I felt for her with the intellectual process of providing her with care was hard on both of us.

St. Gabriel, Delivering a Message from Heaven
The Archangel, St. Gabriel is the Patron Saint of Communication and has a long history of delivering important messages from heaven to earth. I like to think of him as a sort of Press Secretary for the Divine. Unlike most saints, St. Gabriel was never a human being living on earth but instead he was an angel in heaven who was declared a saint for helping people on earth.  His most preferred method of communicating was through dreams so as not to frighten the recipient. He is known to intercede on behalf of those who pray for his help to communicate with others and is known to assist anyone who's work involves communication like postal workers, journalists and telecommunications workers, diplomats, ambassadors and clergy, to name a few.  I figure he has become extremely busy in modern times given the internet, email, cell phones and texting.

On occasion, mother would want to go home to her parents, even though she was already home and her parents had passed away years before. Stopping her with logic only made her want to leave more, focusing her anger on the one keeping her from "going home".  Questioning her was confusing and added to her insecurity. Lengthy explanations created bad feelings, not solutions. It seemed all I did was make her more agitated and angry. Everything I knew about communication skills was worthless.

At night I would lie in bed, ruminating over and over in my brain how to keep my mother safe and happy since the two seemed mutually exclusive. I was confused by how my best intentions only served to make her feel more frightened and anxious, the opposite of what I wanted. I prayed I could find a way to communicate with her that made her feel comfortable. It was St. Gabriel who showed me the way.  It occurred to me that I used words with limited feelings and she used feelings with limited words. I realized it wasn't her inability to make sense of my words.  It was my inability to communicate in a way that made sense to her feelings.

As a teacher I knew that you had to reach every student at their individual point of readiness in order to have success. There were no disadvantaged students, only those who were "differently advantaged". Once I saw my mother as "differently advantaged" St. Gabriel gave me the answer.  If the scrapbook of her mind had pages torn out I couldn't fix that but I could work with it.  There were particular events that simply didn't exist anymore for her. I had to accept where she was, not remind her of where I thought she should be.  
  
I knew the concepts my mother still understood and it occurred to me I could use those to help her make order out of chaos.  She always valued eating meals together so telling her we would do something after dinner could often delay her concerns. If she wanted to call her mother, I would say her mother was using the bathroom and would call when she was done. Using the bathroom was another concept my mother understood. If she was looking for my father, dead 25 years, I would explain he was feeding the cattle.  She knew how important it was to feed them because for many years they had owned a cattle ranch together. 
St. Gabriel, Patron Saint of Communication

Delaying and distracting her worked better than trying to get her to accept my reality. "I'll take you home after we eat lunch" even though we were already home  "We have to wait until the bus comes at 2:00, then we will go" even though there was no bus line where she lived now.  "Your mother and father are still at work.  We'll go when they are home" though her parents had been dead for 30+ years.  If she ask to call her parents, I found reminding her they were dead would cause her to react as if she was hearing it for the first time because for her she was.  It could cause hours of crying. It was a nightmare for us both. My truth was no longer the best choice because her brain simply couldn't hold onto that truth.  Instead it caused agonizing emotional pain and I couldn't bear to be the cause of it.

It's like this...our memories are a long sequence of events that run in chronological order and they give us a reference for making sense out of the present.  In my mother's case she had blank areas in her brain that had once held memories. It seemed I was always the one to remind her of what she had forgotten.  Once I stopped forcing my reality on her, our happiness quotient immediately improved and our collective anxiety disappeared.

I thank St. Gabriel for showing me a way to communicate with my mother that made her feel safe and happy.  I thank St. Gabriel for making our lives easier and less painful as my mother declined.  It is believed that St. Gabriel will blow the sacred trumpet at the Last Judgment and it is then that I will be judged for how I cared for my mother. I look forward to it.    





     

                                 

      

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