Upon hearing about his Alzheimer’s, I knew my mother’s response would communicate gratitude to Pat Bowlen and the Broncos. If you can manage her Alzheimer’s repetition, hang on to the conversation here in this post because Mom’s wisdom goes deep. On the surface level, it appears she is talking straight to Mr. Bowlen and his family and friends. But, read carefully. When I read her words, the advice she gives is also for the ears of other caregivers and [gulp], the advice is to me. As I called myself in a previous post, I am a lone caregiver, and when Mom talks about Mr. Bowlen’s needs, I began to feel some pressure to meet EVERY one of HER needs. This is ALWAYS HARD FOR ME. Below, Mom tells the truth about what she needs but she tells it slant (Emily Dickenson). And, despite the pressure I was feeling, I needed to let her tell me.
Not being able to meet every one of Mom’s needs is a painful reality I continue to embrace in small doses. I want Pat Bowlen’s family and close friends to know how much they are in my prayers and in my mother’s heart (each time I remind her of his Alzheimer’s). Their journey with Pat Bowlen is hard, but it also is a sacred and holy (and sometimes harrowing) path. The tasks they are called to take up will stretch their heart and their faith. I pray that they find hope. In a previous post I encourage my readers towards a rooted hope. We do that by peering at the gifts found in the harsh experience of Alzheimer’s. Even as he struggles, Pat Bowlen will bless his family and friends. And they will bless him. There are still gifts to be given and received. I wish I didn’t know this bitter sweet truth. But I do.
Read on to hear my mother’s words of wisdom. If it is helpful to you or to Mr. Bowlen’s family that is icing on the cake. Take note as you read. There is a subtle thank you to Pat Bowlen in her words. The Broncos are a delightful gift to her (and thus to me) and we will be forever grateful.
August 1st, 2014
Me: I can’t believe it is August 1st already.
Mom: I know!
Me: Before we know it the Broncos will be playing again.
Mom: This is the best time of the year.
Me: It is? Why?
Mom: Because the Broncos are playing! [She was very adamant.]
Me: Oh yes, the Broncos. What do you appreciate about them?
Mom: Well they just lift up your day. You know? Like, you are wandering around (1) not knowing what to do with yourself and you turn on the TV and find them playing. I love that. I scream at the TV.
Me: Yes you do. A couple of months after you moved into your new home at the assisted living, I called you on Skype to tell you to turn on the game. So you did. I learned later that one of your friends [I call the aides her friends] heard you screaming so they sprinted to your room, thinking something was horribly wrong. They found you watching the Broncos. Now they know if it’s Bronco season and a game is on, they’ll hear you hollering (unless you are with me at my house).
Mom: Oh. Hahah. I do get kind of loud don’t I? I think I’m getting a reputation.
Me: Yes, thank God for the Broncos. [You have no idea how much I mean this. It makes Sunday afternoons so much better for my Mom. And anything better for her is better for me.]
Me: Did you know that it was announced that Pat Bowlen has Alzheimer’s?
Mom: No I didn’t! That’s horrible!
Me: Yes, the same darn disease that you have. [It is not always wise to remind Mom of her Alzheimer's.]
Mom: But I don’t have it that bad. Does he have it bad? Isn’t he still young?
Me: I believe he is 70. Yes, that is young. More and more people are getting it young. You started showing signs of Alzheimers in your early 70’s.
Mom: Yeah. Just a few years ago. [She is now 81.] And my signs aren’t bad. I mean, I suppose I’ll get worse. But I’m not getting any worse. [It is certainly getting worse, but a slow kind of worse.]
Me: I’ve heard it is kind of bad for Pat Bowlen. He had to step down. Do you think that is a good idea for him to step down?
Mom: Well it isn’t like he is useless or anything! So no. Why did he step down? [pause, thinking] Well… [pause] I suppose sometimes you have to stop doing what you are doing since things are harder to remember. His job is so important so maybe he was making too many mistakes and causing some problems. But he is so smart so it would take some big mistakes for him to make that decision to step down.
Me: What advice do you have for him now that he has stepped down?
Mom: He should still go to the games. That would be good. Don’t stop going to the games. I mean, the games are exciting and it has been his entire life so that would be something that would make him feel important, to still be there. You know? He needs to know that he’s still important. People think just because you are old that you don’t have anything to give. It’s hard to not have anything to do. It gets boring to not have anything to do. I hate being bored. I’m bored a lot. So he shouldn’t step down. [My shame meter goes off every time Mom talks about how bored she is. Sigh.]
Me: [Swallowing hard] But Pat Bowlen did step down.
Mom: Why? What’s wrong with him?
Me: He has Alzheimer’s. That’s why he stepped down. I don’t know. I suppose because he was struggling in his job.
Mom: Oh he has Alzheimer’s. I’ve heard that is a terrible disease. Maybe his memory was getting worse. Can he still go to the games? I think he should do that. I’m sure he still can help them and if he isn’t at the games how will he do that? Maybe they can have him still give advice so going to the games would be good, even if his memory is getting worse.
Me: If Pat Bowlen’s memory is getting worse will there be anything harder about going to the games?
Mom: I don’t know. It won’t be harder. Will it? Maybe he needs someone to go with him. That would be good. I mean, I don’t like being alone. He probably doesn’t either. Who likes being alone? And he might need some help.
Me: What kind of help?
Mom: Well maybe he can’t remember how to get to Mile High Stadium. [I love that she still calls it this.] Or maybe he can’t remember when the games are on. But that’s not hard to remember because they are mostly on Sundays.
Me: What day is today?
Mom: Ummm. [long pause] What day is it? Is it Monday? [It’s Friday.]
Me: I think it is Friday? Is it Friday? [I know it's Friday. But this is my way of not heaping shame on Mom when I ask questions that tax her memory. So, I look on my phone.] Yes, it’s Friday! Ha ha. It is hard to remember what day it is sometimes.
Mom: Oh geesh. When you don’t work you start forgetting what day it is.
Me: So since Pat Bowlen stepped down and isn’t working anymore, he will still need to go to the games, don’t you think?
Mom: He’s not working?
Me: No, he had to step down because he has Alzheimer’s. It’s probably good for him to still go to the game, don’t you think?
Mom: Yes! He needs that. And the Broncos need him to be there. He still has things to do for them. They need him. But… [and it was a VERY long pause here]… if he gets worse, they should still pretend that they need him to be there.
Mom: Yes. Well, don’t treat him like an idiot. But yes, sometimes they’ll have to pretend they need him so he has a feeling of purpose. Like, at least give the guy a break and let him talk about the game even if he is all cuckoo about it. But he might need help remembering things, like rules about the game. He might know he’s not remembering and feel embarrassed. But don’t tell him that you are helping him remember. But figure out how to help him without him knowing.
Me: We all need help don’t we? Maybe we should keep writing about how to help people with Alzheimer’s.
Mom: Sometimes I need help since I have Alzheimer’s. You help me. People need to learn that it’s OK to need help. [My mother has been so sweet about this lately. In the beginning she was not happy about the help I was giving her. Also, sometimes she remembers, on her own, that she has Alzheimer's.]
Me: You know Mom, we are writing on the blog and people like hearing from you far more than hearing from me.
Mom: Oh that’s silly. What do I have to say? I mean honestly. I’m just an old decrepit woman. I’m nothing special.
Me: You have a lot of important things to say. In fact, a friend of mine read your last blog post and told me how it helped her live better that day. You have a lot of wisdom to share.
Mom: Really? [She sat there in silence for a tad.] You know I bet I do have some things to say.
[To be continued]