Mom joined us today in giving thanks despite her ongoing battle with dementia. She has struggled with her disease for eight years but I learn a lot from her every day. Thanksgiving 2015 finds me grateful that she is with us and still capable of setting a good example. Here are a few things she’s taught me.
- Don’t hold on to bitter memories — My mom has lost almost all short term memory as well as the majority of her long term recollections. You might be tempted to interpret this loss as a full-fledged tragedy. But the erasure has left her free of many bad memories. She has forgotten how to carry grudges and can’t summon up any reason to hate people. In her current state, she is a truly liberated person living with an open, loving heart.
- Be truly grateful for the simple pleasures in your life — My mother can’t feed herself and it takes her a very long time to finish a meal. Nevertheless, she relishes each spoonful of soup and every last crumb of a chocolate chip cookie. You don’t have to eat 10,000 calories or spend a fortune to make your holiday meal special. Slow down. Appreciate what you have and savor what you love.
- If you have only one phrase to say, make it “Thank you” — Mom can barely speak. Half of what she says sounds like a language from another galaxy. Yet somehow, every once in a while, she still manages to say thank you. When those two little words come out whole, I feel like I just won the lottery. Her example makes me want to try harder to be gracious. If she can do it, anyone can do it.
- Laughter lightens every burden — Each morning, the first sound we hear from my mother is laughter. Sometimes it sounds crazy, demented. Then other times it’s an expression of engagement with whatever is around her. When she laughs, we laugh, too. It’s incredibly therapeutic. A good laugh does a lot to clear away pain.
It’s hard to be a caregiver. I get tired just thinking about all the stuff I need to accomplish each day. But when I examine my deeper feelings about the situation, I see that it’s also a privilege to make this journey. Maybe there are other ways to learn these lessons, but for now I am giving thanks despite the daily ordeals that come with dementia.