In 2006 when I began to look after my father who had Alzheimer’s, I was not prepared for the journey of caregiving, and in fact, I struggled every day with its demands. I was torn between my more compassionate and loving side that wanted to “heal” my father and comfort my mother (who at the same time was struggling with her own memory issues), and my other side, my other me, that wanted to follow my own dreams (and caregiving was not one of them).
When my father died and my mother began to show obvious symptoms that she, too, had dementia problems, I made a choice: I chose to “do it better.” And once I made the momentous decision to “do it better” the second time around, everything shifted for me. Now I could see. I opened my eyes and my heart and all the lessons that I had struggled to learn while caring for my parents (in their own home) coalesced.
When I talk to other family members that have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related disease, some of them ask me point-blank, “What on earth can we learn from this disease?” My answer is this:
- to love more
- to be kind and more compassionate
- to appreciate another’s “essence”
- to connect with a person’s “essence” – sometimes just a simple smile and rubbing their hand connects us. Look past the symptoms, see the person.
- to appreciate each moment, to pay attention to the moment and to savour it
- to trust in the Universe
- to trust in ourselves
- to love and accept ourselves (exactly as we are)
- to honour our body, mind and spirit
- to appreciate our own basic abilities, such as dressing ourselves, washing ourselves, eating…all without another’s help
- to laugh, play and engage with others
- to write and share (when you have learned the lessons, tell others)
- to forgive and let go of all the hurts
- to accept our reality (what is…is)
- to accept all others (that includes non judgment)
- that acceptance of others leads to knowing that we are all connected
- We are all one.
There is not a day that goes by without my expressing gratitude for the simple things in life that many of us take for granted. Life, itself! I wake each morning and say “Thank you. I’m here.”
Throughout the day I am thankful for my health, my family, my friends and my home. I try to see everything as a “gift” and as a miracle.
Walt Whitman said, “To me, every cubic inch of space is a miracle.”
When we begin to live our daily lives in gratitude, we begin to see everything as another reason to say thank you. My garden, the birds, our daily walk along the river, the wonderful personal support workers who look after my mother now, the residents in her long-term care facility…each a miracle!
In my heart and in my soul, I know without a doubt that I was supposed to be on this journey. My parents gave our family much love and support as my sister and I grew and it is now our turn to return the love and support. Caring for our parents has been an opportunity for both of us to receive so many lessons; an opportunity to grow and become more aware, more generous, stronger and more content. Throughout this on-going journey, we have learned how to love more and forgive; we have both forgiven ourselves for the decisions that we made in the past and we have let go of the guilt that we carried. We truly recognize that we are doing the best that we can…and we are okay with that.
These are all gifts, my friends.