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My Biggest Leadership Challenge to Date: Mom’s Journey into Dementia

A lot has happened in the two months since my last blog post here. I’ve had to take a sabbatical from blogging, mostly because I have not had the bandwidth and time to write. The most significant reason is that I’ve moved my mother in with me after she had a middle-of-the-night fall back in mid-October. She had insisted, repeatedly, that she was fine living alone, in spite of friends, relatives, and my urging her to bring some aides in overnight. When she fell at 2am one night and there was nobody there to help it was a turning point for her. Throughout all the cognitive, behavioral, and physical changes that have affected her over the last year or so, I have had to be patient and wait for her to “do it to herself”, meaning that the changes came because of something she did or didn’t do that caused her to start thinking differently. This as opposed to badgering her or insisting/ignoring her protestations and resistance.

The first three leadership qualities that I have had to depend on up to the point of her October fall were: going with my gut (including steadfastness under pressure), releasing my own resistance, and patience. While I sensed that she needed to find her own way to releasing resistance to the change that has been happening for/to her, relatives and friends were strongly pressuring me to “be firm”, “insist”, and “make her”…give up her car, bring in 24-hour aides, move into assisted living. I resisted this, though at certain points I experimented with pushing her somewhat harder. That only made her more upset and angry, and it made her resistance firmer. She felt overruled, not respected, and pushing just increased her fear of what was next for her. Bad idea!

These incidents prompted the need for me to more deeply grow that patience referred to above, to pray that she didn’t hurt herself too badly (or anyone else), while she came to her own realizations over days, weeks, and months. I was able to do this because, to a fortunate extent, she recognized her growing discomfort with driving and she accepted limited companionship during the day, which reduced the dangers she might have posed to herself and others.

Hand in hand with this patience, I had to release my own resistance to the judgment of my relatives, and to my mother’s desires to remain as independent as possible…when she clearly was getting beyond that capacity. Also released was judgment of myself for not doing all I possibly could, and what it meant to be “a good daughter”.

Fully aware that I was trading one stressful situation for another, meaning being 1000+ miles away from her and trying to manage what she couldn’t from that distance, versus the every-day-all-day challenges of her living with me, the choice still seemed clear. When she fell and hurt herself more significantly than previous falls, she realized she could not live alone any longer. This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for: to move her in with me “for the winter”, knowing it was likely for as long as I could care for her in my home before her dementia gets to the point where that isn’t a viable option for her.

Her transition to my home, and all that has passed since the move, have been the most intensive leadership training of my life, I believe. Next blog, I’ll share more about what is being required of me as I have stepped further into this challenge, and how all the standard organizational leadership competencies are exactly the skills needed to navigate this phase of her life and my response to her needs…and my own needs.

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