Returning Home to the Scene of the Crime: Living with my Mother & Alzheimer’s

by Kim Olsen, Bachelor of Chemical Engineering, Salesperson, Warwick, Queensland, Australia

About three and a half years ago I felt to return to my home town and live at my mother’s house. It has been an interesting journey. She is now 85 and getting frailer and fuzzier with Alzheimer’s disease. When I arrived she had just had bowel cancer and was getting regular infections and bronchitis. Over the last two years I’ve taken over preparing the evening meal for us, as my mother hasn’t been coping well. It has always been a balancing act between encouraging my mother to do things for herself and doing things for her. She is happy for people to do everything for her. Although she is frailer and more forgetful, her general health has improved.

We have a difference in the way we live. For me it is a learning about being. Being who I am from my feelings, that for me is about being present to myself. For her, it seems to be about knowing, having and being seen (identified).

My observations with regards to my mother and her condition with Alzheimer’s include that she is, and has been always, focused on what others tell her, what is done and what is known (the Alzheimer’s seems to have made it more obvious). I have come to realise that for me, being is ‘it’ – nothing else really matters. The best thing I can do for her is to just be me when I am around her. Mum does not seem to understand this way of living, although she does seem to enjoy being around it. All I can do is meet her in each moment where she is at, and I feel that in some way she is taking it in.

Over the years I have started to see the coping patterns I have used which are part of the shield (i.e. the protection) I used to make sense of the world; for me this shield is something I have created as part of my way to cope in this world. Firstly it projects a ‘me’ that I had come to believe is the way to be seen by others and I have come to realise that the real me has been lost in this. It also uses chosen conditioned responses to react in each situation I have been faced with. In reality, I am not running the ship in this autopilot mode. As I have seen these ways of living that are not me, I have slowly let go of them; I have grown back into me. Many of these patterns I took on as a child have not served me well, so to return to the ‘scene of the crime’ where I took them on is an interesting part of the learning.

I took this shield with me into my relationships and saw myself, for example, mis-stating what I was feeling to get sympathy or identification. I began to stop and think ‘where did that come from?’ It is interesting now to experience a needy statement from my mother, see it for what it is and not get caught in the drama. It is also interesting to observe a behaviour or comment that I have let go of with an internal smile, recognising – ‘ah…that is where I got that from…’.

I never did quite understand much about emotional manipulation and emotional drama: although I tried to do it to fit in with partners I have had, I never quite got it. As a child, I can remember times of being in joy in my own space when simply being asked to go to the shop. I often did not move quickly because I was totally absorbed in what I was doing, and when my mother said that she would go, the emotional manipulation went over my head. It sounded like a good outcome to me… she and I were both getting what we wanted. I then recreated emotional manipulation and drama in my own relationships until I finally got it. I now feel both as needy, although in an accepting non-judging way, recognising that I too fell for those hooks.

So, to say it has been an interesting journey to ‘go back home’ is an understatement. To say it has been productive for all concerned fits into the same category. I feel I am certainly well equipped to be here. My mother would be in a nursing home now if I were not here: I am much more able to see things as they are, and not get caught up in the drama. My sister-in-law, who has done and does much for my mother, is certainly grateful for my sharing this responsibility, and freeing her from much that is difficult for her. What has supported me is learning from the Universal Medicine retreats that ‘I can be me anywhere, with anyone and all the time’, and I learned how to live that all-ways … in joy.

187 thoughts on “Returning Home to the Scene of the Crime: Living with my Mother & Alzheimer’s

  1. No matter how many protective shields we put on they do not protect us at all but does the opposite. The more we are in protection mode the harder it is to heal our hurts and be ourselves.

  2. We are all willing to share our journey when we come on the other side, we talk about the lessons we’ve learned and how we have changed etc. But who is willing to talk about the journey they are going through constantly? The everyday challenges, triumphs and moments of realisation, the lows and the highs? Isn’t that a bit more honest than simply stating all the positives after a journey has been complete so to speak?

  3. If we don’t deal with our childhood hurts we never truly grow up and mature. We can act and feel like we are 3 years old regardless of our age when they get triggered.
    The more clear of hurts and identities I am the more adult, steady and understanding I feel.

  4. When you bring your livingness, what is usually consider a return in truth turns into a departure of what it was, even if the ‘crime scene’ and its characters are seemingly the same. We have to appreciate what we bring.

  5. When we focus on what someone else tells us without first feeling if what they are saying is true we are circulating other people’ ideals and beliefs and it doesn’t take long before we start to believe in things that if we had felt into would not always make sense.

  6. I really enjoy reading this because of the way you let us into your life. As we start to heal ourselves there are opportunities that present, like taking care of a family member, to allow many observations and realisations to be made to support our return to our true selves (our essence).

  7. I wonder if dementia in the beginning strips us of our sophistication, our ability to make things appear differently than they are, laying bare our needs and desires more clearly.

  8. It is so freeing to unpick these emotional threads and tangles. Yes it takes a lot of humble honesty which can at times be difficult to swallow, but it certainly is well worth the commitment.

  9. Seeing what our relatives are truly doing can give us a good insight into some of our more hidden parts as we may be doing something similar.

  10. “Mum does not seem to understand this way of living, although she does seem to enjoy being around it”. As a fellow human being living much more from the being and the doing, I smiled when I read this as I often find that people enjoy being around me (not all 🙂 ) but don’t really understand it.

  11. It is beautiful to feel that our connection to who we are within, is always there for us to deepen. And the more we do the more we become aware of what behaviours and emotions do not represent who we are and in fact are an abuse on the love and preciousness we innately are in essence.

  12. What a wonderful lesson this is, for all of us “I can be me anywhere, with anyone and all the time”. It is one of those priceless lessons to share with our young ones. Just imagine how much easier their life would be knowing that they don’t have to be anything for anyone, but simply be who they truly are.

  13. I love your point that it’s possible to be you anywhere. It’s interesting how we think we have all these problems with people and dynamics, but when we start to live being true to who we are we realise these are all self-created and we essentially begin to dissolve our part in it and realise it’s possible to be loving and having a loving relationship with anyone at any time – if we first have that foundation in ourselves.

    1. Yes that expression is a real growing up. Hopefully at some point we will start to ask why on earth we moved away from being ourselves in the first place, and why people in our lives are not up in arms when we do.

  14. A lovely, loving sharing and I can feel the stillness within you Kim, and as a result I feel the stillness within myself.. Thank you for sharing.

  15. And the thing is, that we can see the signs, the subtle but tell-tale signs of the stepping back from life that is the first step in the downward spiral, we see the signs everywhere and in so many people.

    1. And if that is the first step to dementia and Alzheimers, then there is a way to avoid or reduce the impact of those ailments.

  16. This was so gorgeous to read Kim, in the way you held your Mother and yourself in the understanding that the behaviours you were both using have never been who you really both are in truth. What an amazing opportunity for you both to heal and let go of so much together.

    1. I agree Caroline it is more so through our movements that we reimprint and inspire, rather than through our spoken words.

    2. It is through our livingness that our words then hold the same quality and we naturally inspire others by living more lovingly. It is simple, people can feel the quality of our movements and this can be inspiring.

  17. There is a part of us that can be our own worst enemy sometimes but having an honest awareness of this fact will always support us to learn and grow both from it and beyond it.

  18. We can support each other so much if we let go of ingrained behaviours and patterns. Because then there are far less dynamics and way more ease and love.

  19. When we not get caught by emotional drama life makes a turn and we learn to be in observation. Observing your mother with Alzheimer disease must be an interesting one as I know from work experience it is not always easy but on the other hand it can be such a joy to care and nurture from true care and nurturing we apply to ourselves.

      1. This offering is very powerful for all those that we live and work with. There is another way to be that does allow us the opportunity to be more for ourselves and naturally so for others.

  20. It’s a wonderful choice you have made for both of you – re-visiting and being willing to re-learn. I so get the point that much of what was learnt in childhood didn’t/doesn’t serve so well in any relationship – including the one with myself.

    1. That is true, much of what was learnt was how to cope with a level of adversity that we don’t need to have around us.

  21. Kim thank you for your blog, it is a great reminder of how difficult it can be to look after an ageing parent, especially with Alzheimer’s, supporting your mother and your sister by observing and dealing with what needs to be dealt with, without the emotion or anxiety makes it easier for everyone.

  22. It is beautiful that you chose to go and live with your mother at a time in her life where she needed support. To be able to see the old patterns and behaviours and manipulative ways that have acted out in the past and see them for what they are, is super healing for not only you but for your mother too.

  23. Great to have the awareness that we can heal those old patterns from our past and are not victim to them. Letting them go is very liberating and offers others the reflection that this is possible.

  24. I have experienced several people revert to a limited form of childhood as their dementia deepened and their behaviour becomes less controlled, i.e. it becomes more obvious as Kim has described.

  25. I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to see your own mother’s health deteriorate in this way. The beautiful thing is that once you have studied with Universal Medicine and become a student of the work, as you have, these situations seem to be embraced more for the learning and beauty and less for the emotions, self-pity or escape options. You sound like you are doing an amazing job of deepening your love for both your mother and yourself.

  26. It is quite a blessing to return to an environment or setting from the past and experience how different things can be; there is no need for the same old, same old ever – we always learn and evolve.

    1. Yes, we can find new ways of dealing with issues that loomed large in our childhood and then realise that we have outgrown these issues and therefore don’t need to be part of many dynamics between us and our parents.

  27. It’s interesting to look at patterns that come from family, and to investigate how we have adapted to family dynamics and what we have chosen for ourselves. Then there is the bigger picture again of how our parents were parented, and what environment each generation grew up in (war, poverty, etc) and how these things were again brought into the family. Universal Medicine has supported me in developing this greater understanding instead of holding hurt, resentment or blame. This has been such a gift to help me unravel and heal family relationships and let go to simply be me.

  28. This is a gorgeous ponderous and reflective blog poking around the various relationship themes as it does. Dementia is a terrible thing and so hard to be with in my experience so the gentle way you are with your mother feels very inspiring.

  29. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a reminder to stay present with every move we make and to be true to who we are.

  30. Kim, I had a similar journey with my mother a couple of years ago. What you have expressed here ” Being who I am from my feelings, that for me is about being present to myself ” works with any situation we find ourselves in, in our daily lives, no matter what is going on around us.

      1. This is the living that comes naturally that we often downplay over the doing that leaves us heading in the opposite direction.

  31. Very few of us live life allowing others or the world to truly see who we are. We have learnt a multitude of faces to present depending on the setting, the day, the company etc etc if one we have perceived doesn’t work we can try another. All is about getting people to see something you want them to see. But what if this part of things doesn’t fit, what if ‘our’ way was to just allow ourselves to feel what was going on in front of us and then simply respond from there? What if life we weren’t meant to be perceived as anything but merely live from feeling each moment and then truly responding from that feeling. This for me is a way to always be ready to respond as it’s not a learnt face but a flexible approach to anything that is presented to you in life.

  32. This is an inspiring and beautiful blog Kim. You remind me that home is within us and our connection to where we are truly from allows us to deeply connect with ourselves and others wherever we are.

    1. This blog is a marker of true healing for all that needs to be shared with the world. There is so much misery and hardship attached to what we know in caring for our loved ones with this condition.

  33. Beautiful insights Kim. It can be tempting to point the finger at another but we have a chance to evolve if we approach things with an openness and willingness to see the part we play.

  34. How amazing and deep in joy to be in the world with many others who choose differently, it feels like the whole world being together and yet have our own choices, being able to be with each other this way reflects a deep intimacy we have with ourselves.

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