Downsizing with Dementia

I’ve been in the process of a little ‘downsizing’ at my house. Fueled by the experience of having moved my mother out of a home she lived in for 52 years, I’ve been steadily going through closets, drawers, cupboards, the garage and basement…anywhere the seldom used ‘stuff’ I’ve accumulated through the years might be lurking.
It made me think about this little Facebook note I wrote –unbelievably, almost two years ago. We’re now a few chapters further into Momma’s story of her life with Alzheimer’s, with her now residing with us in our home so we can care for her full-time.
I am re-sharing this as a reminder to myself of how God has been present at every juncture of this journey. It is also my heartfelt desire to bring encouragement and hope to someone else on a similar journey in life.

Facebook Journal Entry dated January 7, 2017
Alzheimer’s and other dementia disorders bring a whole new level of difficulty to the table when it comes to downsizing and preparing a parent for a big move. I found this to be the sad truth when I made the decision to move my mom from the Milwaukee home she and dad built in 1961 to her senior apartment about 80 miles west in Fitchburg. There were times I would spend the day sorting, wrapping, packing, and labeling boxes, only to be awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of mom tearing off packing tape and sifting through the contents of the moving boxes. Further setbacks to the packing process would inevitably occur when I went home to Fitchburg after a weekend in Milwaukee helping her pack. I’d arrive back at Mom’s a few days later only to find that which was packed was now unpacked and back in its original space…or hidden so that I could not pack it again.
Thankfully, as many of you know, we’ve moved on a few chapters in the story, sold the house, and made the move to Fitchburg. Mom now lives about 5 blocks from our home and is happy and generally content living close to family. Now that we have her all settled in, I have a bit more time to reflect on some of the things I experienced in the process and do a little writing about some of the missing chapters.
Middle of the night UNpacking session
On one occasion last spring, in my absence of three days, Mom had changed her mind about moving and she made sure I heard about that decision. While I had anticipated this would happen, nothing could prepare me for the dramatic angry outbursts, sobs and tears. She clearly no longer wanted to move. However, the diagnosis of advancing Alzheimer’s was the harsh reality assuring me otherwise. God had made it abundantly clear that the time to move Mom had indeed arrived, in spite of mom’s tearful arguments to the contrary.
Tweaking my packing strategy was in order if I wanted to achieve my goal of getting her moved out and her home ready to be put on the market in the spring. Painful knees prevented Mom from venturing as much to the basement or out to the garage. Though it was exhausting extra work for me, I began moving the boxes I packed to these more remote locations where they would be out of sight and out of mind. Finally – it was no longer two steps forward and three steps back.
Hard to part with memories
I must admit to becoming a sneaky smuggler, often carting boxes of household miscellany to Goodwill while she was napping. Treasures that evoked strong personal memories came home with me for safekeeping or were given away to family and special friends. The sanitation workers grew accustomed to my meeting them at the curb to hand off trash that wouldn’t fit in her garbage cart. They didn’t have to take it, but they had compassion and did. The lid to Mom’s recycling bin burgeoned with excess recyclable materials. Mom’s kind neighbors sometimes “stole” our recyclables and put them in their cart so we would have room in ours.
Thankfully, when Momma was in good spirits, she would encourage friends and family to take what they would like too. Other times, she would lament the loss of her precious belongings, or wonder where this or that went. She’ll probably never use it again, but her West Virginia glass (some of which is pictured above) made the move with her. Seeing her special things still on display brings a measure of soothing familiarity to her fragile mind.
As I have confessed before, the Enemy would often try to convince me that I was all alone in this monumental task. But the Spirit would remind me I was never alone.
  • Some prayed and many donated time and effort…or boxes and packing materials.
  • Mom’s Spring Creek Church (SCC) family was amazing! I could never name all of the ways they were a blessing – and will probably devote more writing space later to the role of the local church in caring for those with dementia.
  • A couple from mom’s Sunday School class (quietly going through their own physical trials) brought over an occasional meal and little gift.
  • Several of mom’s friends (including her former retired pastor and his wife) took mom to hair appointments when I couldn’t be there.
  • The SCC pastoral staff made several visits which blessed her greatly (and blessed ME even more).
  • A very generous friend, ran a pre-estate sale, helping me move a huge portion of unneeded items, generating a small amount of cash which would help my mom get established in her new place.
  • The SCC youth group took most of the remaining items off of our hands to sell at a rummage sale, helping them raise funds for a mission trip.
  • And the SCC pastors and deacons teamed up to help us empty her house and load up the moving truck!
Matt and Tracy: Spreading the love of Jesus with a paintbrush
  • During this whole process, my son Matt and his sister-in-law Tracy (who is also my friend) rolled a fresh coat of paint on all of the walls (goodbye pink bedrooms!), readying the house for its eventual sale.
  • Tracy also organized a fantastic team of ladies from Spring Creek Church to give the house a final cleaning once it was emptied.
  • My daughter Beth and her family donated a day to help clear and clean things out.
  • Our friend and realtor David Krebs (also from SCC) even pitched in by checking on the house from time to time – thankfully, alerting us to the fact that the air-conditioning had given up the ghost – allowing us to make the arrangements to have the furnace and air-conditioning replaced in the nick of time the day before closing.
My “W”
I certainly cannot forget the help I received from my husband, Wayne. My guy did whatever handyman jobs he could and arranged for outside help for the things he couldn’t. He helped me make countless decisions when my brain felt like it was on overload. When I needed something for the house or the move, he would order just what I needed on line and have it shipped to me, or made ready for pick-up locally. Wayne accompanied me to closing, arranged for truck rental (and dealt with the frustrations related to this) and handled many other move-out and move-in arrangements. The list goes on. Most of all, on my brief visits home when I was in the thick of things, he held me tight and made me feel secure in my teeter-tottering world.
And, of course, there was the One who was with me each and every step of the downsizing way.
He is the One who provided peace when my heart was troubled.
Joy when I only felt sadness.
Comfort when I grieved.
Wisdom in my confusion.
Patience when I felt anything but.
Encouragement when I was down.
Grace when I only felt like screaming.
He will never leave me or forsake me.
I would be remiss if I forgot to praise Him from whom all blessings flow.

Author: barefootlilylady

I love sharing about my barefoot gardening adventures, hence my blogger name. As I write, some of my other passions might spill out -- like fun with grandkids, baking and sewing endeavors, what I'm studying in Scripture, and the like. My readers will notice that one of the primary things I write about is Alzheimer's. May what I write be an encouragement to anyone who is a caregiver for someone they love with memory loss.

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