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.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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