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  • Writer's pictureSusan Carr

When it's time to let go.

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

No freelancing tips.

No story about an interesting client encounter.

No quippy squirrel humor.

We discovered a baby mockingbird out of its nest. We heard a bird call repetitively and throughout the day. We finally found him nestled in the bushes in our front yard.

He's really hard to spot, but he's the puff of gray in the middle.

As we kept watching and listening to him, his mom soon came to feed him. (While both parents care for the nestling and fledgling, it was the momma bird for this retelling.)

He's much easier to see when his beak is wide open!

We would hear his call for the next couple of days, although we were not always able to spot him.

And then we noticed the little guy decided to leave the security of the bushes and take a chance in the open.

This is him outside the dining room window.

And this is him back in the front yard a few days later. This little guy is growing up and learning how to take care of himself.

His mom, after about 2-3 weeks, will leave him to it and go off to start nesting for another brood.

The mother bird knows she can't protect her baby forever, and life just has to begin for him.

The baby bird, by sheer instinct, knows this, too, and understands when it's time to let his mom go.

I am beginning to know and understand the same thing.

Last October, my 80-year-old mom was diagnosed with dementia, or as it is now referred to, Major Neurocognitive Disorder.

"Dementia (also known as major neurocognitive disorder) is not a disease, but a group of symptoms that are associated with a decline in thinking, reasoning, and/or remembering."

On Thursdays, I travel 70 miles to go spend the day with my mom. She is still hilarious, kind, and loving. But she's slowly losing herself.

This is how a conversation went between us this past visit while we were working together to put away her groceries:

Mom: "Is your mom at home right now?"

Me: "Yes, and she's the best mom I know."

Mom: "Well, that's good! What's her name?"

Me: "Jean."

Mom: "Is she a copy of me?"

Me: "Completely and totally."

Most days, in fact, 98% of them, she's already lost me. As her daughter. I am "that lady who visits me and takes me places."

Two weeks ago, I enrolled in a caregiving course with the Teepa Snow organization, which uses a Positive Approach to Care (PAC).

I have learned how to respond when my mom asks me questions about my family.

It's no longer "our family," because her brain can no longer comprehend our familial relationships.

Instead, I join her in the curious part of her brain, which still functions well, and answer her questions in a way that

  • doesn't make her feel sad

  • doesn't frustrate or confuse her

  • doesn't demand that she remember

Until you have experienced life with a person who has MND, and, quite frankly, until you can understand a positive approach to care, this way of responding may seem wrong, even unkind.

Most family members try desperately to get their loved ones to remember things that are gone from their minds. Maybe not 100% gone, but very, very hard to recall.

Two things I've learned about MND through this PAC course

  1. At least two parts of my mom's brain are actively dying.

  2. Her chronic condition cannot be fixed and will not improve.

While these two facts are heartbreaking, they are also revelatory and very helpful for me as one of her caregivers.

Just like this baby mockingbird, I have to learn when it is (was) time to let go of "my mom."

If I continued to try and cling to our very good, fulfilling, deep mother/daughter relationship, I would very quickly find myself in depression, grieving my loss.

While I do grieve the loss of the woman I have known all my life as "Mom," this new approach to care has allowed me to embrace the woman she still is -- Jean.

And Jean wants to make people happy, experience beauty, hum along to smooth jazz, enjoy banana bread and coffee, go to Disney, love her orange tabby cat, do anything she can for others, and express her gratitude for all others do for her.

I know this condition will progress in a vicious and devastating fashion.

I know this is a terminal diagnosis.

I know a lot of changes are ahead for our family.

I know I have to understand that "I can't have what I want, and she can't be who she once was." I have to let go.

And that's okay. Because by letting go of what cannot be, I am able to embrace what can.

Having at least every Thursday, and some extra days, to see the world through Jean's reality.

And more often than not, her reality is full of smiles.

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