Lessons of Life in the A-Zone
When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald knew her life had changed forever. She used prayer, intuition and creativity to make it through this difficult time. Peggy has shared her story in the podcast “Life in The A-Zone”
To all of us who are taking care of a parent or has ever taken care of a family member for any reason… we are Everyday Heroes!
Taking Care of a Parent or Any Family Member can be Challenging. Please do all you can to take care of yourself during the process.
Caregiving for Parents
- Meditate. Take time in the morning and evening to pray or meditate even if it’s only for five minutes.
- Guided meditations on YouTube are great if you have problems falling asleep.
- Keep a gratitude journey. Write down at least three things every day.
Make the tough decisions.
Your loved one will try to stay in control.
Remember, they are not capable of making safe decisions.
Find Your People
- Find a support group through your local Alzheimer’s services.
- Find a therapist that you can visit
- Find a friend that will allow you a safe place to vent.
Lift Your Spirits
- Get some sunshine and take a walk. Stay active.
- Check YouTube for yoga and other exercise videos. You can find videos for various lengths of time – 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.
- Play music. It will help your loved one and lift your spirits. Watch the television shows that incorporate music.
It is easy to reach for sugar or alcohol when you are stressed, so make sure you have:
- dark chocolate
- herbal teas
- Practice self-compassion.
- Write a letter to yourself, praising yourself for all the good things you are doing.
- Look in the mirror and smile. You are a hero!
Getting The News
“Your mother has Alzheimer’s,” the doctor announced to my family. The reality hit us like a ton of bricks. Dad seemed stunned, and Mom looked confused. It’s not that we didn’t know this was coming, but hearing the official “Big A” diagnosis slapped us in the face. Wake up!
I remember the day in vivid detail. I knew at that moment my life had changed forever. By divine intervention, my husband was laid off that same afternoon from his job as a stockbroker. Within months, we sold our condo in Los Angeles, drove across the country, and moved in with my parents in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and the most challenging three years of my life. However, there were beautiful lessons of love, laughter, life, and loss while living in the A-Zone as I named it. I learned to find gratitude in the little victories every day, to dig deep for courage, and rely on my higher power as I became my mother’s caregiver.
Now I’m Taking Care Of A Parent
With no children of my own, I was not prepared to be a caregiver! I struggled emotionally, watching my beautiful and vibrant mother slip away in front of my eyes. “Come back, please,” I wanted to scream every day. Within months I found myself at my doctor’s office asking for help as my depression, anxiety, and lack of sleep became too much to bear. I surrendered. How could I help my mother if I didn’t help myself?
My mother passed away on July 2, 2019. I was grateful she was no longer suffering. However, I wasn’t prepared for the grief, the guilt, and the emptiness. There were so many things I could have done differently. I regretted moving away 36 years before and missing her good years. I was sorry for the times I wasn’t patient and lost my temper. I wanted one more day with her, even one of the bad days.
Listening to My Intuition
As I walked around the beautiful lake in our neighborhood, the still small voice inside me, which I call my intuition, told me to write my stories. I saw rising numbers of people across the world affected by Alzheimer’s, and I knew each one had family members trudging the caregiving struggle. I may not be able to create a cure for the disease, but I could share my experience, strength, and hope. Maybe my stories would help another caregiver to know they weren’t alone in the Alzheimer’s battle.
For months, I looked at my laptop every day. I should begin writing, I told myself but found a list of reasons not to start. Instead, I chose to nap, exercise, cook, eat, or binge-watch a streaming show. When I saw the Louisiana Book Festival schedule offering a memoir essay writing class, I felt the nudge to register. Maybe, this would jump-start my writing.
Sharing My Caregiving for Parents Experience
On November 2, 2019, I walked into the class, dressed up with make-up, and felt motivated. Following a writing prompt given by the instructor, I wrote my first story, The Fashion Show. In the story, I shared my feelings while watching my mother, a proper southern woman always dressed fashionably, reduced by Alzheimer’s to dressing in mix-matched, inside out, and dirty clothes. While reading it to the class, my voice began to break, and I began to cry. Looking up, I found the instructor and the other participants crying too. Walking out of the class, I felt lighter and inspired. I now had a purpose.
As my memoir unfolded on the page, more life changes happened. My 84-year old father had a knee replacement, I had a hysterectomy, and the pandemic began. I knew the book journey would be long and tedious. Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde…Life Stories About Food, my first book was released in 2012, required tons of work plus a 4-month book tour. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready for queries, rejections, and the waiting game. I didn’t want to wait for someone else to tell me my stories were worth reading. I knew they were good because they came from my heart.
Getting the Stories Out There
Once again, my intuition nudged me to “get these stories out now.” I believe my mother is my guardian angel and was kicking me into action. On July 1st, I met for a socially distanced visit with two girlfriends and told them I was thinking of sharing my stories in a podcast. They encouraged me, and on my birthday three weeks later, I booked studio time and recorded the first three stories. On July 29th, I launched Life in the A-Zone podcast. Within weeks, I had listeners around the world with comments of how they laughed and cried relating to my stories.
These stories are the gift of coming home, the gift of being there for my mother, dad, and family. I believe my mother is looking down with a smile on her face and her spirit lives with the others who have lost their lives to Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Family caregivers are learning lessons of compassion, courage, hope, and strength. They have become my heroes.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and while awareness is raised for Alzheimer’s and dementia, we can’t forget the caregivers who are struggling and hurting.
If you have a caregiving friend reach out and offer to give them some respite time, bring them a meal, a cup of coffee, or join them for a walk. Allow them to vent, share their feelings, and give them a long hug.
By Peggy Sweeney-McDonald
Peggy Sweeney-McDonald is an actress, author, producer, speaker, and writer. She is the host of Life in the A-Zone; a storytelling podcast series where she chronicles her bittersweet journey of moving home to Louisiana after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube, and other podcast platforms. Peggy is the author of Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde... Life Stories About Food by Pelican Publishing available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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