Birthdays, Dementia, and a New Year

Busy holiday schedules have cheated my Mom of good birthday parties for most of her life. But this year we felt a strong need to observe the occasion. There’s no guarantee we’ll get another chance.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.by Lao Tzu

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
by Lao Tzu

Mom had no idea that yesterday was her birthday though she’d been reminded of it many times. When we produced a beautifully decorated cake and her favorite food (vanilla ice cream), she was genuinely surprised. Although she’s suffering from a nasty eye infection and relentless digestive problems, the “Happy Birthday” song brought her to tears (of joy!) She even danced with me while Adele and Perry Como provided our soundtrack.

It was tough to figure out what kind of gift Mom would actually enjoy. She can’t read or exercise — except for slow walking. Her closets bulge with more clothing than she can wear out in this lifetime. I finally bought her a very soft pink teddy bear that she named Charlie. It may sound childish, but you would not believe how much she loved it.

Her conversational motor winds down fast, so we have to keep thinking of questions to keep her engaged and awake. I asked, “Is there anything you want to do in the new year? Something special you’d like to see?” We prompted her through a list of possibilities: go dancing? hear music? take a trip? Nothing got caught her attention.

Finally she said, “I want to live!” Her statement came out with more enthusiasm than you might expect from a person so impaired by dementia.  She made us all laugh. But it reminded me of a quote I read last week about being alive. In the spirit of Mom’s declaration, here’s that quote, plus a few others that might help you as you reflect on the cares of 2012 and consider the possibilities of 2013.

  • “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” –Agatha Christie
  • “The Lord doesn’t like us to be dead. Be alive. Sometimes I dance to the glory of the Lord, because He said so.” –Mahalia Jackson
  • “We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” –Joseph Campbell
  • “It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what  we are.”             –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  • “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman
  • “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” –Marcus Aurelius

Life is a gift we don’t always understand. Take a moment to appreciate the full measure of who you are and all that you have done for others. Living through each day is a special kind of achievement for caregivers. Congratulations on being here.

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