Elgin woman's book chronicles her unlikely path to motherhood through Alzheimer's
Pam Singleton never gave birth to a child. But that ultimately didn't stop her from being a mother, even in a most unlikely manner.
Now the Elgin woman has written a book about her experiences caring for her mother as if she were her daughter.
"My Mother, My Child: An Unusual Journey To Becoming A Mother Through Alzheimer's" chronicles Singleton's journey to find a way to care for her mother that serendipitously filled a void in her own life.
"Motherhood comes in very different ways," she said.
'Are you my mother?'
A busy career always complicated Singleton's hope to one day have children. It got even more complicated when her mother, Mary, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1996.
With the help of nurses, Singleton's father took care of Mary at their Elgin home during the week. Then two years into the disease, Pam started relieving her dad on weekends.
"We say that we shared custody of her," she said.
The experience took a toll. Singleton would travel to her parents' home after work on Fridays. Then on Sunday evenings, she would make the long drive home to Kankakee, where she lived at the time.
"I would cry all the way home," she said. "I'd get there and think, 'I'm not going to be able to maintain this.' It's just so draining."
Years of changing her mom's diapers, helping her get dressed, feeding her and dealing with her wild mood swings made Singleton realize that -- though her chance to have children had seemingly passed her by -- she was having many of the same experiences people with kids go through.
"I was getting a crash course in motherhood," she said.
That crash course got even more real one day when Singleton's mom asked her, "Are you my mother?"
'A better caregiver'
About halfway through the roughly dozen years that Singleton spent as a part-time caregiver to her mom, Mary began identifying Pam as her mother.
"You learn when you're taking care of someone with Alzheimer's to live in their world -- to make their reality your reality," she said. "So I would agree with her because it made her less anxious."
From that point, Singleton's approach to caregiving -- and the satisfaction both got from it -- changed.
"I wanted to see if I could find a better way to care for her through this lens," she said. "Plus, I really felt that I had become her mother. And that change in thinking helped me become a better caregiver."
Singleton said she never spoke to her mom in a childlike manner. And rather than focus on what she couldn't do, she'd make her feel like she was part of the process. While she couldn't dress herself, she could choose between two outfits. She couldn't cook anymore, but Singleton let her pour ingredients in as she cooked.
"What I tried to do is maintain her dignity," she said. "My philosophy is that they know what they don't know. They're aware, to a certain extent, that they're sick. But they just can't articulate what that means and how that manifests itself."
Singleton said she saw the role reversal as beneficial to both of them. Her mom was less anxious, and Singleton was more able to focus on the positives.
"I didn't want all the memories I had of her to be all the 'accidents' she had or all the crying that she did or her inability to remember or really talk or read or all the things that get lost," she said. "I wanted her to sort of re-enjoy her childhood."
And while Singleton says everyone's experience with the disease is unique, the approach worked for them.
"As miserable as the quality of life is for somebody with Alzheimer's, I think we capitalized on the moments we could," she said. "There would be a few moments of lucidity, and you hone in on those. I learned a lot about my mom in those times.
"I think we got a few more moments like that while I was treating her like my daughter."
Mary Singleton died in 2011.
Pam Singleton, who now works as senior director of business services at Elgin Community College, had always thought about writing a book about her experiences while caring for her mom. She started an outline and jotted down some memories. But she set it aside for more than a decade.
She picked it up again in September. Old regrets about missing her opportunity to have children had resurfaced, and she needed something to shake the sadness she was experiencing.
"One night, I just got the transcript out, and it started flowing," Singleton said.
"I was pretty certain no big publishing company was going to pick it up," she added. "So it became a project for me."
Six weeks later, she had her book and self-published it through Amazon.
"I never expected it to be a big seller," Singleton said. "I just wanted to get some information out there so people could maybe learn from it. And I just wanted a simple little book to remember my mother."
The book is available online at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google and Amazon. Singleton also is working on getting copies in some smaller, local bookstores. She will have a book signing from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 25, at the Algonquin Barnes & Noble.
Singleton acknowledges her story is, well, complicated. Lives affected by Alzheimer's usually are. So what does she say when asked if she has any children?
"I say I didn't have kids, but I took care of a child for several years," Singleton said. "It was in the form of my mother, so that's pretty darn cool."