One of the things that has become increasingly obvious in our society – and it seems to have been underwritten by the ubiquity of social media – is an almost total absence of civility among the human race.
We have, it seems, cast off all restraints that might have led us to be gentle, kind, compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic, polite, respectful, and courteous, and we’ve become brutishly uncivil in our words, our behavior, and our actions toward each other.Continue reading →
Choosing to be the caregiver for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease is a conscious, deliberate, and willing choice of sacrifice, selflessness, and, ultimately, love.
However, in the big scheme of things, this choice, this action on our parts is our acknowledgement that we are fulfilling the circle of life for parents – and, in some cases, grandparents – who made conscious, deliberate, and willing choices to make sacrifices in their own lives, to act selflessly, to love unconditionally when they brought us into their lives.
Like many of our loved ones become, if they live long enough with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, we were totally helpless, utterly dependent, and needed 24/7 care and attention, as well as love, soothing, and comfort.
There was no reticence, no holding back, no wavering in the commitment our loved ones made to us in those needy, weepy, sometimes trying, sometimes scary, sometimes exhausting beginning days, weeks, months, and years of our lives.
Instead there was gratitude.
The sacrifices – and they made many, some deep and hard and of which we are totally unaware, sacrifices – along the way for us were worth whatever they were giving up.
The selflessness involved was never an issue because they loved us that much. It was always less about them than it was about us.
And that love was always unconditional. Even when we tried their patience without end. Even when we got into one thing after another, sometimes making little messes and sometimes making huge messes. Even when we unknowingly embarrassed them with unapologetic frequency in front of both strangers and friends. Even when we were, at best, a handful, and, at worst, out of control.
At the end of each day, we knew we were loved and that no matter what else happened, we always had a safe place in the world to count on, to come home to, to be comforted in.
Did they get tired? Yes.
Did they get frustrated? Yes.
Did they get angry? Yes.
Did they sometimes just want to throw their hands up in the air and say “Enough already?” You bet.
Did they handle everything with grace and perfection? Absolutely not.
Did they try? Absolutely.
Did they quit us, even when we had ripped the sleep out of their nights, the peace out of their formerly-tranquil lives, and the color out of their hair? No.
Because gratitude trumped all those temporary setbacks and disruptions. They saw us as gifts from God and they saw being able to love and care for us as an opportunity to thank God for the gifts He had given them.
And herein lies the reasons we should be thankful for the opportunity to take loving care of our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Our loved ones have been and are gifts given to us by God. How best to show our gratitude to them and to our Creator than to love and care for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, as they did for us, when they need us most and depend on us most?
Caregiving is not easy. It is hard, demanding, and often thankless work that requires an unshakeable commitment to persevere in spite of obstacles, in spite of hurts, in spite of the numerous losses it will bring to our own lives.
Caregiving, then, is a gift that each of us has the opportunity and choice to accept or reject.
If we reject that gift, then we are rejecting an incredible opportunity to fully appreciate and to be eternally grateful for the sacrifices, the selflessness, the unconditional love that our loved ones and God Himself, through His Son, made, showed, and gave us, not because we asked for them, but simply because we mattered that much to them.
If we accept that gift, on the other hand, we are the beneficiaries in so many ways that far exceed the challenges we are also accepting.
With this gift, we become kinder people, gentler people, more empathetic people, more understanding people, more patient people, more long-suffering people, more merciful people, more self-controlled people, more humble people, and more loving people.
The gift of caregiving for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Diseases also gives us the blessings of becoming more courageous, more comforting, more forgiving, stronger, more compassionate, and more sympathetic.
And finally the gift of caregiving increases our faith and our faithfulness: faithfulness to the commitments, physical and spiritual, that we make in our lives; and faith in God and His word and His promises that a time is coming when all things, including our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease as well as those of us who care for them with our limitations, our faults, our flaws, our mistakes, and our missteps, will be completely healed.
There is much to be grateful for as we love and care for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. I have not even scratched the surface of covering all the areas where we experience gratitude in this journey with our loved ones.
But my hope with this post is that each of us will think about and find the gratitude in our personal experiences that overshadows the pain, the sorrow, the losses, which temporarily sting and grieve us, but in the balance transform us in more mature and more thankful iterations of ourselves.
This article from Science Daily about verbal abuse and its negative influence on the quality of life among the elderly really struck a nerve in me. This is one of my soapbox issues about the care, the honor, the respect – and the increasingly appalling lack of it – we as a society give to the elderly among us.
The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is the one of the most pervasive lies that’s been perpetrated since it was first said in an old English nursery rhyme. The reality is that physical pain heals to one degree or another, but the pain of verbal abuse never heals. Words, once spoken, remain with us until we draw our last breaths.
Just because our loved ones may be experiencing dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease, or other age-related illnesses that impair them neurologically and/or physically does not mean they are oblivious or immune to the tone, the quality, and the veracity of our words.
I caught a lot of flak for that post and got a lot of excuses and justifications (just an FYI: if you have to make excuses and justify behavior, then it’s a good sign that it’s wrong and you know it’s wrong and you are consciously choosing to do what is wrong anyway) as to why being dishonest was okay.
It did not and does not change my position and the reality that being dishonest is not okay ever. Dishonesty is a moral failing at its core (we should strive never to be dishonest with anyone about anything), but it is an equally unacceptable form of verbal abuse for our loved ones suffering with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dishonesty is just as much verbal abuse as yelling, demeaning, cursing, and talking about our loved ones as if they weren’t there. Even if they don’t understand the full meaning (and really, who knows how much intuition and understanding is there, but inaccessible in terms of articulation?), our loved ones still react to and fear verbal abuse. Just like each of us does.
Be kind. Be gentle. Put yourself in their shoes and ask “how would I want to be treated if this was me?” Be honest, but do it with love and tenderness. Let your tone always be one that comforts them. It takes effort. It takes self-control.
Sometimes it takes deep breaths and counting to whatever number you have to until you’re ready. That’s on each of us. Because we know better and can do better, while our loved ones don’t and can’t, especially with neurological deterioration.
I’ve been in enough nursing homes and assisted living facilities to see a lot of verbal abuse up close and personally.
It triggers a protective nerve in me that makes me want to go up to those who are doing it and say “You want to pick on someone? Bring it on. But don’t you EVER speak to any of these people, who could be your father, mother, grandfather, or grandmother like this!”
If I could save everyone who has ever experienced this at the hands of a caregiver, I would.
I can’t. But I urge all of us make sure we’re not guilty.
Early on in Mama’s dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – as I was grappling with understanding and accepting what was happening to her mind – it occurred to me that all humans go through an initial incline, a longer period of plateau, and then a final decline.
The decline mimics childhood in reverse, until if we live long enough we end up being like a newborn, totally helpless, totally dependent, unable to express ourselves except through the most primal language we humans have: laughter and tears.
I always told Mama that I’d do everything possible to make sure her second childhood was better than her first one. I did my best, making mistakes along the way (just like there are no instruction manuals for the day-in, day-out parenting of a child, there are no instruction manuals for becoming a parent to your parent, so you learn as you go), but assured that the one place I did not fail Mama was in making sure she knew she was loved, she was wanted, and I wasn’t going to leave her.
My hope is that in our simultaneous and shared journey of her taking two steps back and one step up and me taking two steps up and one step back that, in the end, my love, my care, my concern, my devotion, and my commitment was enough to make up for all the things I didn’t know, didn’t understand, and sometimes screwed up because of my own ignorance and ineptness.
This is not a journey for the faint-hearted. Once committed, even though no one ever really knows what they’re getting into, it requires a lot of tenacity and a lot of prayer. But it also requires unconditional love, abundant mercy, infinite patience, persistent gentleness, and unfailing kindness.
These are the life and character lessons parents learn from raising their kids. For those of us fortunate enough to complete the circle of life for our parents as they go gentle into that good night, we get the opportunity to learn these same life and character lessons.
It is a priceless gift and one I’m thankful to have received.