This summer had a lot of highlights. Because of this thing called “being human”, it also had some challenges, one of which was helping to move my dad into a full-time care facility. Over the last many years, his mental faculties have been declining and it got to the point where it was too much for my mom to manage. She made the very difficult and courageous decision to seek help.
The dementia experience is not the most fun thing I’ve ever encountered, but there have been several perspectives that have helped me see it more as a blessing than a problem. I thought it might be helpful if I shared those ideas with you.
Perspective #1 Embrace What Is
One of the most valuable outlooks I’ve ever learned is to embrace what is. There’s no use fighting with reality, plus it takes a lot of extra effort to do so.
A great deal of suffering comes from being attached to how we think things should have turned out. Of course I wish my dad would have a perfectly healthy brain but he doesn’t and so I don’t spend time wishing things were different.
Instead, I ask myself how I can love him unconditionally and accept this current reality. I practice being really patient with him.
His decline has been long and drawn out and there was a time, a few years ago, where he would ask the same question multiple times. I would just repeat myself as if I was saying the same thing for the first time and vary my answers a little to keep myself entertained. It was a really good exercise for expanding my ability to be compassionate and patient.
It turns out that those were the good ol’ days because his language center has been affected and so he now starts many sentences but struggles to finish them. I’m choosing to see this development as an opportunity to open my heart wide enough to be able to hold all of it; the painful parts, the disappointment, the tragedy, along with what is still beautiful and joyful.
I savour those moments when he says something hilarious (he still pulls out a one-line zinger from time to time) and we all have a deep and precious belly laugh.
Perspective #2 Dementia is Presencing
Something I heard from one of my mentors, Dr. Sue Morter, that has been helpful is that we could call Alzheimers and Dementia “presencing”.
What every human being desires, whether we know it or not, is the ability to be more present.
What’s interesting about being present is it actually has three parts to it. To be fully present, we must learn to accept the past without regret or doubt. We must trust that everything that has occurred has happened for our highest expansion and that the Universe is for us and not against us.
The second part of being present is to be able to look towards the future (a.k.a. the Unknown) with a sense of curiosity and anticipation rather than with dread, worry or fear.
Then the third part of being present is to be immersed in the present moment, being mindful to stay focused on what is current and available.
The interesting thing about seeing Dementia as presencing is that it’s an opportunity to deepen my understanding of what it means to be present. My dad is my teacher in that respect. I see how he doesn’t worry about the future. I notice how he doesn’t dwell on the past. He often asks, “What are we doing now?” or “Where are we going now?” He’s fully present.
I use his questions to remind myself to open up to having a greater experience of the present as well.
Putting Perspective #1 and Perspective #2 together, I’ve thought about how, at some point, it’s likely that my dad won’t know who I am. I’ve already been working on embracing that reality should it come to pass (rather than fearing that version of the future). What I’ve determined is that it doesn’t need to be painful because I know that my dad adores me and I love him right back.
Whether he recognizes me or not, there’s a greater reality where we both know each other, our souls can perceive and appreciate each other and I don’t have to suffer by trying to hold onto what was.
Of course, it remains to be seen if I will feel the same way when/if it happens, but for now, he still knows me and so I revel in the smile of recognition and delight on his face when we get together. I can save that feeling for later and pull it out as a beautiful memory if needed.
Perspecitve #3 Wholeness and Completeness
One of my awarenesses that has helped in a big way is another concept I learned from Dr. Sue.
We each have our life’s curriculum and we can’t know what someone else is meant to get out of this current life. One thing is the same for everyone, though; we’re meant to expand our ability to understand and embrace our brilliance and magnificence. On a soulful level, we are never anything less than whole and complete.
This idea has brought great comfort to me. I don’t have to figure out why this experience is happening in my dad’s life. It’s happening so that he can expand and grow on a soul level. Most importantly, although it might not look like healing in this reality, a part of my dad is growing on a soulful level. He came for a really big experience of something and he’s getting it.
I once had a healer who told me that part of his journey was to experience acceptance no matter what. I took that to heart and have made that outlook part of all of my interactions with him - to accept him fully and completely.
One day a few months ago, I was in tears over his decline and my beloved husband, Paul, reminded me that there is a part of him that remains whole, complete and untouched by this human experience. For whatever reason, I found that to be extremely comforting and it helped me feel better.
On the day that we moved my dad into his new home, my mom had a lovely idea; that my dad’s new purpose is to bring light and love to everyone at the facility. I totally agree because my dad is a ray of sunshine. He loves to lift people up and help them feel happy.
Although the way he does that may have changed, he’s still doing it. The careworkers love him and can see who he is, even though his decline continues. It shows me that when someone has a big heart like my dad, it has an impact no matter what.
With big love and intrepid courage,
>Creator of Courageous Self-Care
>A big fan of Thanksgiving that we just celebrated (Happy Thanksgiving Canadian Friends!) because it’s a holiday that celebrates gratitude and has very little commercialism. Woohoo!
>Appreciating the word bittersweet - totally what I’ve been experiencing while witnessing my dad’s journey
Since the washing machine is playing the backdrop to today’s writing experience, I want to tell you how much I love my laundry detergent. A few years back, thanks to a hilarious commercial, we discovered Tru Earth laundry strips.
Here’s what I love about Tru Earth:
Here’s their website if you want to check it out: https://www.tru.earth/
Speaking of bittersweet, this week’s song is the perfect auditory expression for everything I said earlier. I love Loreena McKennitt and I’m thrilled to get to go see her in concert this November.
Her music was such a big part of my early 20s. It’s haunting, mystical, wild and free. It feels like she is a master weaver, entwining sounds, feelings, words and the unseen together into divinely evocative music.
This song is called Dante’s Prayer and it’s absolutely delicious.