Can you find the gift from the loss?
Updated: Feb 24
So many of my friends truly grieve the loss of their parents when they return to heaven. My father passed away from cancer over 20 years ago. He was unconscious for the last week before he left this earth plane. We never really got to say goodbye, but do we ever? I often ask myself what is harder? Not having them here anymore? Having only the memories? Or is it harder having a parent alive, alive but diagnosed with Alzheimer's and them not remembering anything? What is harder? Never to be able to have a conversation with them again or never being able to have any kind of meaningful conversation with them again because they have Alzheimer's?
Being a caregiver to my mother, who has Alzheimer's, and having to see what it does to a person day in and day out is painful. It takes the person's memory. A parent may remember their childhood memories but they do not remember yours. They don't remember who their grandchildren are. They sometimes forget who you are. Alzheimer's puts them in a certain place in time. It could be 40, 50, 60 years ago. Alzheimer's is the pain of having to see the person who was once strong and vibrant become a shadow of themself, just a shell. Alzheimer's is watching a person do everything they can do to hold on to their memory and see that they still lose it anyway. It is having to deal with an adult who now is more like a child and always needing to be told what they should do. Alzheimer's is having to deal with someone who has the will but not the mind or the strength to do it even though they think they do. Alzheimer's is seeing them get frustrated and angry when they can't.
It is having to hear the same few questions or statements repeated over and over again and your answers and responses never being remembered. Alzheimer's is hoping that the person will pass before their physical body deteriorates to the point where they will no longer be able to swallow their own food.
Alzheimer is saying goodbye to the person who they once were. It is painful knowing that so many people have gone through this with their family members, maybe under different circumstances, sometimes worse and even more heartbreaking.
I feel all of this and more.
I thought that Alzheimer's was starting to rob me of the memories I have of my mother. I began to feel like it was. The daily task of being her caregiver, of having to respond to an Alzheimer patient, had created a new pattern, a new mindset of how I responded to her, what to say so I wouldn't make her upset. This was what was in the forefront of my mind, until I asked to see the gift.
I let go of the perceived loss and I choose to hold onto the memories, the memories of the support I felt from my mother throughout grammar school, high school and college, of sharing my hopes and dreams with her. The support she gave me when I was starting my career, when I was planning my marriage and then when I was a young mother trying to figure out how to raise my children. The healing of the sadness begins by letting yourself say goodbye to the person they once were and saying hello to the person they are now, of saying hello to the person who is letting go. The gift is letting yourself see the positive that this disease can show us. A person with Alzheimer's responds as if they are seeing or hearing everything for the first time. Alzheimer's reminds us to see everything as if we are seeing it for the first time, as with the eyes of a child. Alzheimer's also is a reminder to let go of control. Alzheimer's tells us to stop trying to hold on to things so much.
We try to control everything our whole lives. We have to be on time. We have to do our job. We have to fit in with the norms of society. Alzheimer's slowly has you let go of all this. Alzheimer's forces the person to be taken care of, especially if they have never allowed themselves to be taken care of before. Let go of control. Control is all about fear. The fear that if we let our guard down, everything will fall apart. We hold onto to control to feel safe and secure. Let go of control. Let go of the fear. Breathe and say: I am safe. Alzheimer's also lets you be in the moment. Even though the person with Alzheimer's will not remember what they just did, they enjoy it while they are doing it. They live in the present and enjoy the experience. Enjoy. Let go of fear. Let go of control. Be in the moment and enjoy it. Stay present in the here and now. It is all there really is. The past is behind us. The future is what we make it. So, hold on to happiness. Let go of the grief. Ask for help if you need to. The one thing that my mother has always said to me and still says is, Enjoy, enjoy, life's too short.
My favorite motto since I was a teenager is Live, Love and Laugh. Find the joy. Live in happiness. Love is the greatest power and Laughter is the best medicine. Find the gift. Ask to be shown it if you can't see it. It is there.