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Being there until the very end is bittersweet

When the cycle of life winds back on itself, it can be hard not to lose yourself in the twists and turns.

People I love are presently caretaking for people they love — whose lives are winding down.

Three of my personal beloveds are caring for their aging parents. Willingly. Honorably. But, if we're being honest, also with a considerable amount of personal sacrifice.

Parenting an aged parent is complex. This changing of the guard can be fraught with frustration and even a certain amount of fear. Role conflict inevitably adds stress. Feelings of guilt and uncertainty revolve around the inevitable questions: Am I doing this right? Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Who the hell signed me up for this?

Been there. Done that. Hoping my friends know how much I respect what they are doing, believe they won't regret their choices, and wish I could do more to help.

I walked this road with my mom and my husband. I still believe it's a blessing to be there until the end for those we love most. There were amazing conversations, moments and memories created during these most difficult times that sustain me still.

But the process sure ain't easy. And, because I wasn't always easy on myself when I couldn't be "perfect" in the face of it all, the spillover sometimes affected everyone.

Regrets. I have a few. But I'm learning to let them go. With a little help from my friends.

Fortunately, I did have the help and support of other family members and special friends. And I am most grateful that my dying loved ones were able to love me back — every step of the way. Literally until their last breath.

Not everyone gets that lucky. Thankfully, there is usually help to be found — if you know where to look.

Marya Kain, a care consultant with Jackson County's Senior and Disability Services department, helps family members who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Kain helps caregivers understand how to look at the problems created by a diseased mind, and to find creative ways to ease behaviors that are causing frustration, anxiety and depression for all involved.

Kain's father struggles with Alzheimer's disease. Which means, of course, so does her mother. So does she. So do so many.

On Thursday Kain shared a bittersweet story about an aged couple, a troublesome chair, and enduring love.

The elderly wife, who cared for her husband all day, faced heartbreaking rejection each night. As the sun would set, her loving mate would suddenly look at her as an intrusive stranger. An interloper occupying his wife's chair.

"Don't you remember me? I'm your wife. We've been together all day. We were just watching a movie two hours ago," the woman would cry, Kain said.

The wife's efforts to reassure her husband she was his bride were futile. Believing his bride would soon arrive home, the man would become increasingly agitated in his efforts to remove her, Kain said.

"His heart was in the right place. He was trying to protect his wife. But it came to the point where he was shoving her out the door," Kain said, adding the police had been called several times to assist the woman.

"He was about to get hauled away," she said.

I told Kain I couldn't imagine many things more painful than to be in that woman's position.

Kain explained the perceived rejection was actually the husband's still-active protective instincts. Alzheimer's was simply impacting the reasoning portion of her beloved's brain, she explained.

"You have to meet someone where they are," Kain explained.

Armed with this knowledge, the beleaguered wife was able to come up with a solution to the heartbreaking sundowner's drama, Kain said.

"She ended up deciding to leave each night as soon as he began to get upset," Kain said.

The wife decided she'd wait outside for five or 10 minutes before walking inside again. Once in, she'd greet her husband with a hearty, "Honey, I'm home!" — just as she had for decades before, she said.

It worked like a charm. Now the wife is happy. The husband is, too. And life rolls on.

"He was so happy to see her," Kain said, adding the husband had no memory he'd been trying to boot out the "old lady" just minutes before.

"His heart was right. His intent was beautiful, albeit initially harmful," Kain said.

No one gets a rock-free path while wandering life's twists and turns. When caring for others, it's best to trust the wisdom and knowledge of our "inner expert."

And be especially kind to ourselves, Kain said.

I'm inclined to agree.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.