Yesterday, we visited my Grandma Ruth. Our family made the difficult decision to move her into memory care back in June. It was heartbreaking, but it was time. It’s tough on my grandparents, mom, aunt and uncles. And it’s difficult for me, too. In a sense, we’re grieving her loss; mourning the person she used to be. Yet, I know she’s in there somewhere–behind the lonely, blank stares, jumbled sentences and general confusion. At least, that’s what I choose to believe…probably because it’s easier that way. We’ll never know why the path of dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s, was chosen as hers to walk.
Each time we visit, I’m attentive to every word, expression and gesture–desperately hoping, praying I might catch a glimpse of the grandma I used to know: The one who took us to school and picked us up in her green Buick LeSabre. The one who kept orange TicTacs and wintergreen Lifesavers in her purse, ready to hand out should we ever “need” a sweet treat. The one who gave me Vera Wang pajamas every Christmas, neatly wrapped in a fancy box with a bow on top. The one who gathered a box of rocks from the streets of Rome while on vacation (because I used to collect them).
Maybe, just maybe, she’ll remember something this time, I think. Maybe the topic of baking will ignite memories of stirring caramels, whipping divinity, or kneading Christmas bread dough in her kitchen. Maybe by calling Jacqueline, Jacqueline Ruth, in her presence, she’ll be reminded of my baby’s namesake.
Lately, though, the glimpses of the grandma I used to know are few and far between. Lately, I wonder what she remembers, what she knows and how she actually feels. Honestly, I haven’t any idea. Can you imagine having feelings and words inside but not being able to express them in a way that others can understand?
The truth is, we can’t wish this away. We can’t escape the disease and neither can she. And when I think about it, little good will come from waiting around and hoping for her to come back to us. Sure, it might happen (temporarily), but anxiously waiting in her presence isn’t honoring her being. This is Grandma Ruth. The person right in front of me, all 100 or so pounds of her. She’s here–maybe not as I remember, but she’s still here. She’s still beautiful as ever; the kindest soul and purest heart I’ve ever known. The memories I have from years past – they always will be. But right now, I need to accept this disease and work through my mourning so that I can accept and truly love her for who she is right now. I owe it to her to honor her being and the person she is right now–not just the person she used to be. All of this makes up who she is. All of this is a part of the beautiful grandma I know and love. When we truly love someone, we love them in their entirety. Love calls for our acceptance–acceptance of the other’s illness, beliefs, religion, political views, etc. Love, my friends, has no boundaries.
So, I’ve decided to re-frame the way I look at things–rethink the time I have left with her. And I’m deliberately choosing to find joy in this disease. I’m searching for moments of joy and beauty in the presence of our relationship right now. And you know what, it isn’t that difficult to do. When I take a close look at my life – the people, the daily blessings, the small yet beautiful moments – I see joy in the ordinary and find millions of reasons to be grateful.
Real quick, do me a favor: write down 10 things that happened today for which you’re grateful for. Was your morning cup of coffee amazing? Write it down. Did your child tell an awful joke at supper time but you laughed anyway? Write it down. Even if you had a bad day, write down 10 things. Here’s the kicker–even on a bad day, I bet you can still find 10 things you’re grateful for. This, my friends, is what it’s all about. It’s about finding and seeing joy in the ordinary, even on our most difficult days. The smallest flame in the darkest room still shines. See and feel the light, my friends.
We haven’t any idea the storms that lie ahead or the road we have yet to travel. Tough days may be on the horizon, but these are the days capable of molding us into the magnificent beings we were made to be. We get to choose our attitude, the way we proceed, the way we react to our circumstances. From this day forward, I intend to choose joy in the face of Alzheimer’s. I’m beginning to realize, I need not search too far.
“When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
Find joy. Choose joy. Create joy. And do it every day.