Thursday, August 09, 2007

Detachment as a Spiritual Discipline and Way of Life

I have been thinking about detachment a lot in the last few days. It might be because I am going to have to place my mom in a dementia/Alzheimer's ward of a long term care facility and who in their heart wants to have to place someone they love behind locked doors for what is essentially the rest of her life?

I realized that when it comes to making decisions about mom and where she is I have always tried to take my cues from her. So long as she realized that she was at home in her house that was where I wanted her to stay. Now that she isn't even aware that it is her home most of the time and can't find her way around it anyway, it is time to move her out of there and into a place where she will get round the clock care and take that burden off of my sisters' shoulders.

So, in the way that we do as a family (everyone trying to take credit for doing the most) we are moving forward to get mom placed in an accredited, well run facility where she will be safe and hopefully my sisters will be able to sleep better knowing that skilled people are looking out for her needs and they don't have to stay up all night with her because she can't sleep and might wander out of the house in the middle of the night.

I have kept as my mantra through the last three years:

Do the next right thing,
make the next right decision,
live in this moment,
that is the best you can do.
Not everyone has agreed with my decisions when I have made them, but I do believe that at the time that I made them they were the right ones for that circumstance. It is so hard to say goodbye to mom. It is hard to think of her not being there in her house --the one I lived in when I was in high school, and the one where I was introduced to mrangelmeg and we spent many happy times. I still have all those memories, but to think that the woman that was the center of those memories still exists is wrong.
I said goodbye to mom in 2003. I remember the exact day, I had had an absolutely horrible morning at work and really needed to talk to her and I called her on the phone. I was beginning to pour out my heart, hoping she would help me make sense of where I was and what I should do in this particular situation and the response I got was a cold hard woman who didn't have time for me and my trivial issues. I was devastated at the time but after I hung up the phone it occurred to me that she probably hadn't even realized who I was when I was talking to her and she had gotten very confused so her reaction was anger, not at me but at her disease.
I sat in my car on the street in front of my office and cried for two hours because I realized then and there that I could never just expect to call mom's phone number and get mom on the phone. Sometimes when I called I would get Mrs. Alzheimer's instead. I made a conscious decision on that date to say goodbye to mom so that no matter how Mrs Alzheimer's treated me I would never be confused into thinking that I was being verbally abused by my mom.
I think it is because of my level of detachment from the disease and my ability to not let it affect me that I have been capable of dealing with her behavior changes and my having to take over more and more of her banking and household management issues (two things I leave in the capable hands of mrangelmeg in my own house).
I can go up there and visit her and it doesn't hurt when she makes a scene when we are out in public, because it isn't my mom that has made the scene it is Mrs. Alzheimer's. I can leave her in the capable hands of the staff of the hospital and nursing home and breathe a sigh of relief that I am not the one who has to worry anymore because she will be in a safe environment and they will take care of her needs. I can visit her there and not expect her to realize who I am, I can share my world with her and try to live in her world a little too, and not feel torn up inside that life isn't fair.
I feel blessed that I have been given this gift or that I learned about it just in time because it is very new to me in terms of my spiritual growth. Interestingly though even before I realized that detachment was what I was actually practicing, my heart was already preparing to be detached.
It is nice to realize that I am growing too, though.


Mimi said...

Oh dear, this is such a beautiful post, and heartwrenching at the same time.

Prayers to you, your mom and your dad.

onionboy said...

My mom always said, You made the best decision you could at the time, as we faced the results of a decision. We may have made a good call or it may have turned out for the worse but we made the best decision we could at the time given the situation and certain knowledge. God bless you and your mom and your family.


Gashwin said...

Thanks for your powerful thoughts. I can empathize in a very very tiny way -- in the last couple of days of his life, as the cancer was eating away at his brain, my father's cognitive skills were affected rapidly and gravely. I remember how painful and frustrating it was, but mercifully, it lasted but days. I can only imagine how this must feel.

Please know of my prayers.

Doesn't seem like an appropriate post in which to do this, but, I'm tagging you with one of those annoying-yet-fun blogosphere memes. Take it up if you'd like!