Tag Archives: dementia and holidays

Giving Thanks Despite Dementia

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.

Giving Thanks Despite Dementia

  • 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.

Season of Miracles, Despite Dementia

As the snow banks retreat and the first nibs of grass appear, it’s easy to see why this time of year is revered as a season of miracles. When ancient people observed their first celebrations of Easter and Passover, the changing world must have seemed remarkable indeed. The spinning of the globe was not fully understood; the world’s position in the grand universe was still a mystery.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Rare and Elusive Easter Bears

Life must seem just as magical to someone with advanced dementia. Once the symptoms get to a certain point, a person has no real control over what happens to them in the course of a day. Physical and cognitive limitations keep them from exercising free will. Yet, in most cases, their needs are met. Hunger rises and then food arrives. Someone helps them get nourishment. Teeth are grimy and a mysterious hand brushes them. Clean clothes appear; dirty ones get washed.

There’s no joy in being helpless. But there must be tremendous amazement at how this process of life continues to take place, despite so many obstacles. My mother is so delightfully happy when the sweet icing of coconut cake crosses her tongue. She is so grateful when we dress her in a favorite soft shirt or tame the cowlick in her hair.

Making it through the winter was a struggle for both of us. Hoisting bags of coal and dragging ash cans. Shoveling snow and hacking ice from the walkways. My mother got treatment for the wound that sidelined her from walking. Now, as the geese return and the robins make an appearance, it does seem like the world still offers small miracles if you’re really paying attention. Mom had some kind of Renaissance that is allowing her to witness another spring. I don’t know what tomorrow will be like. But today is a beautiful example of why it’s not wrong to be hopeful, even in bleak times. No more coal, no more snow. Just a couple of Easter eggs and a sweet sense of relief. May each one of you find a moment to sense it, too. Peace be with you all.