For Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Amy Grant, caring for parents struggling with memory loss was truly a family affair.
As one of the first contemporary Christian performers to cross over into mainstream pop, Amy Grant has enjoyed a long career filled with awards and accolades. But when her mother could no longer recall her daughter’s success, Grant knew a difficult journey lay ahead.
“My mom passed within two-and-a half years of developing full-body dementia,” explains the multi-platinum album artist, “and my dad lingered for another seven years.”
Watching her parents fade was painful, but Grant was determined to stand by them. “By Christmas 2008, I noticed such a marked decline in my mom that I actually canceled everything for 2009,” says Grant, who honored only a handful of commitments that year. “I don’t know that I balanced things very well, but I realized I was losing both of them and didn’t want to be on the road.
“I knew the days were dwindling when my parents would know me,” she says. “But you find your rhythm again. I’d go by and see my parents on the way to get on the tour bus. You just have to ease into all the new normals.”
Coming to terms with her parents’ conditions wasn’t easy. In addition to watching her mother steadily decline until her death in 2011, Grant had noticed changes in her dad, a respected oncologist.
“My father started repeating things over and over, like directions from his house to my house,” says Grant. “He was just trying to hang on. I’m glad as soon as I realized what had happened, we made the brave jump to start talking about it.”
Grant points out, “Our experience was that it really brought our family together, just trying to spend time with my dad. Especially when he couldn’t really talk very well, we loved taking him on drives.”
Learning what works
Understanding how to approach someone with dementia, such as speaking more slowly and not arguing if the patient becomes confused with his or her surroundings, is crucial. It’s also important to spend time together.
“We tried to find things that my parents both enjoyed,” explains Grant, who got creative with meals and exercise routines, as skill sets diminished. “And we did lots of singing together, including old church songs. And keeping a sense of humor helped.”
An overwhelming responsibility
Grant, the youngest of four daughters all living in the Nashville area, credits sisters Kathy, Mimi, and Carol with helping their parents with daily issues. Everyone pitched in, but it eventually became too much. Their father’s long-term care insurance allowed them to hire professionals when the time came, and Grant is forever grateful for his financial planning.
“We eventually landed on an amazing group of caregivers who became a community around my father. They became part of our extended family.”
There were many difficult moments for the family members, including separate instances when both parents wandered from their home.
“My mother was picked up on a drizzly, cold street in the wee hours,” says Grant, who, battling a wave of despair, anger, sadness, and grief, ultimately found comfort in the words of a dear friend whose parents had both passed away. “She said, ‘This is the last great lesson your parents will teach you. It’s a lesson of compassion, flexibility, creativity, and understanding.’”
Grant adds, “Every life comes to an end, and there are beautiful things you learn. We live in a world with so much chatter, but when a person you love loses the ability to speak, just sitting and holding hands matters.”