Simone Angers is sitting in a large, comfy armchair in the TV room of her daughter’s large heritage home in Springhill when Carolyne kneels on the floor next to her mother’s chair.
“Mom, I need a hug.”
As Carolyne lays against her mother’s lap, Simone smiles and pats her back.
“She’s my angel,” she says.
“Mom, I’m turning 60 tomorrow,” Carolyne says when she sits up.
“I know,” her mother replies.
“And you’ll be 90 in May.”
Simone puts a finger to her lips. “Ssshhh.”
Last year, in honour of her mother’s birthday, Carolyne did something completely unplanned and utterly out-of-character: She got a tattoo.
“I saw a tattoo artist standing outside his store so I asked him if he was any good,” she says with one of her big-smile laughs. “He asked me what I wanted and I didn’t know. I said, ‘Ten minutes ago, I didn’t know I wanted a tattoo.’ I’m not a tattoo person.”
She went inside and together they designed the tattoo that is now on her right forearm: Three cherry blossoms.
Carolyne pulls up her sleeve and shows the tattoo to her mother.
“What’s this?” she says.
Her mother points to each pink flower. “Bob. Me. You.”
“We three,” Carolyne nods. “I love you, Mom.”
Later, over tea at her kitchen table, Carolyne says, “We three. My mother, my husband and me. I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have the husband that I have.”
‘This’ is being a full-time caregiver to her mother who has congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease.
Due to failing health, Albert and Simone Angers moved from Port Royal to Bob and Carolyne’s home in Springhill in October 2012 where they had their own bedroom and bathroom on the main floor. Two weeks after the move, Carolyne’s father passed away.
“My siblings wanted to put them in a nursing home but, thanks to Bob, we brought them to our home,” she says. “Dad was dying, as it turns out. It was almost as if once he knew that Mom was going to be safe and nurtured and loved, he was done.”
Carolyne describes her mother as very French, very polite and very social.
“So coming to our home, even now, all of her manners are still in place. She doesn’t go to bed at night without thanking Bob and thanking me and wishing us goodnight. She didn’t have any company the way she has now and she loves it. We love it too but sometimes it’s hard because…Price Is Right, Wheel of Fortune, Murder She Wrote,” Carolyne saysof the TV shows Simone likes to watch.
Carolyne says her learning curve for caring for a parent with dementia was steep.
“I was a bit task-oriented but then I had this neat idea.”
Every morning, Carolyne makes herself a cup of coffee then, still in her pajamas, she goes to her mother’s room and sits on the bed. The dog jumps up with them. For about an hour, they just hang out together surrounded by Simone’s familiar things, her paintings and photos of her husband and three children.
“In the moment, she amazing but she doesn’t remember ten seconds later,” Carolyne explains. “So we visit. We reminisce and we talk. I tell her how I’m doing. It starts the day off so calm and tender. It’s the most amazing thing in the world. Sometimes she’ll say ‘We love each other and as long as we have love, we can get through anything’. The love I receive is so big and wonderful. I would do anything in the world for her.”
Carolyne, who lives with a chronic illness herself, admits she can be a bit of a tornado when it comes to caring for her mother. She knows she is demanding when it comes to getting support for her.
“I might not be good for myself but I am fierce for her,” she says of the perception that she is combative and hard to get along with. “Because of who I am and the way I talk, it seems like I want something for me but I don’t. It’s for my mother. Everything I do is for that woman.”
This feeling has been reinforced by her mother’s congestive heart failure.
“Every night I kiss her a whole bunch because I don’t know if I’m going to see her in the morning,” says Carolyne.
After breaking her arm last year trying to get out of a chair while Carolyne was making tea in the kitchen, Simone now uses a walker to get around. Despite her mother’s objections, Carolyne insists because the congestive heart failure makes her mother weak and the dementia makes her forget how to put one foot in front of the other.
“She’s never alone now,” Carolyn explains. “Sometimes I get on my knees and say, ‘Mom, I really need to have a shower. Promise me you won’t get up’. But she’s never alone.”
Carolyne’s excitement at having this conversation points to the isolation many caregivers experience.
“It’s as isolating as heck,” she agrees. “It’s the most lonely thing I’ll ever do in my life. There’s nobody to rely on for help. It’s scary to imagine. Most of the support staff for Mom have been amazing and I have emergency health services nearby but really and truly, it’s an awful burden to put on someone, to make them ask for help.”
Her isolation is compounded by the fact she and Bob are fairly new to the area (he transferred to Springhill with his federal government job), their two children (and one grandchild) live in Ontario and British Columbia, and taking care of her mother and her own health issues prevent her from getting out and meeting people.
But you won’t hear Carolyne complain about what she sacrifices to care for her mother at home.
“I don’t this because it’s the right thing to do. I do this because I want to do this,” she says, driving her finger into the tabletop for emphasis. “It’s not an obligation. How long will I be able to do it? I don’t know. It depends on where my mother’s journey goes. This is a wonderful, joyous experience.”