The day that Alzheimer’s touched my life changed everything for me.
I was 30 years old. My dad was 52. There were children mulling around and clinging to my legs as I answered the front door. I had a home daycare at the time.
My dad looked me in the eye and said exactly this:
“I have just been diagnosed with Dementia. When it comes time for me to go to a nursing home, it will be up to you because the others won’t be able to handle it.” With that, he turned and walked out the door.
And so the journey began. I was one person before that conversation, and completely another after it.
Before that conversation, I lived for tomorrow. Everything that I did was with an eye to the future. Saving, doing without, making do, waiting, always waiting for later. “When this happens, we’ll do this. When we get this, I’ll feel this.” You know how it goes.
After that conversation, I began to live for today. Of course I still save and make do with things when practical but my life is no longer on hold for “later.”
If I want to travel, or take a course, or learn a language, or do something crazy, I do it. I have no idea what my life will be in 10 years or if I’ll even be here. Why the hell would I wait?
This journey has been rough. My family and I are estranged now so I won’t be the one making any decisions about my fathers care or anything else related to him for that matter.
What I have chosen and been led to do is to work within the Alzheimer’s community when and where possible. I’ve been blessed to sit on the Alzheimer’s Society board in the past, to teach yoga to caregivers and people with Alzheimer’s, and to offer nutrition advice or an ear as required.
Alzheimer’s touches my heart in a way that nothing else does. The Universe brings people my way who are struggling with this and I believe it’s for a reason.
Alzheimer’s is not a pretty disease. It’s not a disease that gets a lot of attention as it’s often seen as a kind of decline that’s to be expected with age.
Alzheimer’s is cruel. It takes the person that once was and reduces them to a shell. The only kindness is that once it advances enough, it is believed that the person doesn’t understand what is happening. If there is a blessing, this would be it.
Alzheimer’s is exhausting. Have you looked into a caregivers eyes and seen the mental and physical exhaustion of this disease? Have you seen the pain and isolation that comes from something so small as the loss of touch? Think about it. How would you feel if the love of your life no longer reached for you? If a simple gesture of holding a hand was no longer available to you?
Alzheimer’s is a thief. It steals the mind, body, and spirit of the sufferer. It steals the romance, the activity, the husband/wife and parent / child relationship. It steals every single thing that this person and this family knew to be true.
But you know what it doesn’t steal? It doesn’t steal the love. What kind of a love is this – the love of a caregiver to be able to say “I love you still. I remember how it was. I choose to be here and to persevere. I continue to choose you.”
If you know a family struggling through Alzheimer’s, reach out to lend an ear or a hand. Sit with the person for an hour so that the caregiver can go out (or stay in and rest). Offer a meal or a hug or a prayer. HUG them. Offer a hand in love.
As Rumi said, “in the end, we are all just walking each other home.”