Two days before the one-year anniversary of my mom’s passing, I found myself in a pathetic mood. I was weepy, sad, focusing on all of the unpleasant memories of the 9 years my mom and our family lived with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Anyone who has been a caregiver or loved someone with Alzheimer’s knows exactly what this means: dressing, toileting, bathing and in the end feeding them as they steadily decline. The loss of dignity is profound for the individual and the family members. Watching them lose their identity, relationships and dreams, it hurts. Reliving this in my imagination left me in quite a state. I just couldn’t shake myself out of the victim mentality that possessed me. It was undeniable and very uncomfortable.
So, I went for a run. And as I ran, my playlist included the songs I played for my mom. Cole Porter, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, the music of her era, was what we enjoyed listening to together. I clicked on Frank Sinatra singing, THAT’S LIFE. This music jogged a different memory path. The paths that weren’t quite so sad. I found myself remembering how we would sing while I took her for a drive, ironically, she could recall most of the lyrics, yet had trouble remembering my name.
We would sing while she watched me cook some of the tasty recipes I learned to prepare from her. We would dance with careless abandon and I would revel in her laughter. At some point, during this run, a smile slowly crept onto my face. I could feel it. I could feel my spirit begin to lighten.
Next up, VOLARE, Dean Martin. I ran faster. Soon, I began to think about all of the silly, light-hearted moments I had with her. There were many. We called them SILLY SESSIONS. Like the time we tried to get her to say, “What’s up dog?” over and over again until she got it right. I have that on video. Hysterical!
The time when she came out of the bedroom wearing her shirt as pants with the arms dangling at the sides. Topless! That cracked her up when we pointed it out.
The time when she petted a cushion at the animal shelter because she thought it was a sleeping cat. As she stroked the pillow and muttered to herself, “well… you’re different”, my heart just filled up with such sweet love.
I ran faster as I continued to embrace the lovely, light-hearted memories, memories that quieted the angst. At some point my spirit shifted during this run and I emerged out of my doldrums and entered a state of gratitude and acceptance. Sweet relief.
When we look at the balance sheet of life, the cost/benefits of loving someone so much, the scale of experiences, in our case, the scale was tipped heavily to the side of joy. I believe that it is necessary to look ones feelings straight in the eye and acknowledge them. To pretend they don’t exist requires a boatload of energy that often just can’t flow out and gets stuck. I needed to experience my sadness. I needed to wallow a bit, just a bit, in my self-pity.
Very simply put, this what I discovered:
1. Acknowledge and notice the emotions. Rather than bury the feelings, allow them to surface. And somehow, this acceptance accelerates the movement of despair to make its exit and make room for joy.
2. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t pretend to be strong when you’re not, happy when you’re sad.
3. Have the courage to accept life as it unfolds.
It’s only been a year since she died. I look forward to the time when I recall with greater frequency the Pre-Alzheimer’s memories of my mom; her youth as a young mother, a grandmother and a working, intelligent woman, how she mothered me.
Those memories of her have not surfaced as naturally. But they will, I just know it. Pre or post, it doesn’t really matter though. In the end, what matters most is how one loves and is loved. This gives me peace, peace for my mom and peace for me.