My Mom's Light
A Coach's View...
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation...." -Audre Lorde
When people ask "How is your mom?" I find it frustrating. I can't help it. Everyone means well, but when your mom has advanced Alzheimer's, it's not like you will ever really say, "Much better! I think she has beat this thing!" It is also not helpful when they say, “She is so lucky to have you as a daughter.” I am consumed with guilt every day of my life worrying that I do not do enough, even though I have accepted that “enough” is elusive and unattainable. I realize people don't know what to say. I always respond with the obligatory smile and nod, turning quickly before I catch a glimpse of pity in their eyes. It is always the same song and dance.
I spend most of my life and energy trying to help people and their families get healthier by building better versions of themselves at CrossFit Jane. I can't build a better version of my mom. My mama is broken. She will not be fixed. That is a huge, ugly, bitter pill to swallow.
I try to push forward without facing that thought every minute of my day. I hug my kids. I laugh with my husband. I have heart to heart chats with my friends. I grade papers and attend workshops. I go to my book club and drink good coffee. I take a hike and breathe in some fresh air. I prepare fresh, real food. I lift heavy things and put them down.
But then, occasionally, I have to bathe my mom and change her diapers. I have to clean up her messes or unearth items she has packed in strange drawers and hiding spots. I drop everything and run to the hospital because she has had a minor stroke. Then I sit next to her and remind her who I am and that I have two kids at home who love her. I comfort her and tell her not to be afraid of that bearded man; he is my husband and the love of my life. I smile when she says I remind her so much of her daughter. And I use my stern voice when I insist that yes, she must eat all her broccoli.
If you ask me why I CrossFit, I could give you so many reasons, but right at this present moment, my answer is simple: Mom. Yes, I want to keep myself healthy and my mind active. But it is more than that. I will never get to do burpees or clean and jerks side by side with Mom, but I can do it with her in mind. She is in my mind and heart when I throw weight over my head or on my back. My heart feels so much heavier than the weight I can drop and release. I can't drop or release the hurt caused by this horrible disease. I can't erase the blank stare in her eyes. I can't muscle through or dig deep enough to bring back the woman that used to live in her skin; but I can take care of myself. In the words of Dylan Thomas, I can rage against the dying of the light, her light. The light I no longer see in her eyes. I can sweat, eat real, nutrient dense food, get a good night’s sleep, control my stress level, run, lift, push, pull, squat and swing to build the best possible version of myself so I can better care for her. We must take care of ourselves in order to care for others.
If you or someone you know are dealing with this disease, please know you are not alone. We need to talk about it. Find someone you can talk to about it but not just anybody. In my case, Mom has early-onset Alzheimer’s, so it really doesn’t help me when someone says, “I understand. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s.” This is not an elderly grandparent; this is my mom, who should be spoiling her 7 and 9 year old grandkids. My best friend lost her dad to the disease. This is not why we are friends, but I know this is just another area of my life where she “gets me.” I can talk about the anger, the hurt, the frustration, and hopelessness without fear of judgement. Taking care of yourself involves surrounding yourself with the right people, devoting time to decompress, just be sad or grieve.
This Friday, I will complete the second workout of the 2015 CrossFit Worldwide Open. I will sweat, struggle and fight for one more rep. Then I will drive to stay with my mom for the weekend so my dad can have a much-needed break. I will feed her real food, clean her up, remind her how much I love her and make her get out and move. I will hold her hand as we rage against the dying of her light.