In view of November being National Caregivers Month, I respectfully submit the following letter.
My Sweet Donna has dementia. In the last five years this condition has progressed to where I am unrecognized. But I don’t need Donna to know who I am. My reward comes when I am told, “You are the nicest man I ever met” or “You helped me so much today”.
Yes, caregiving is a 24×7 endeavor. Yes, you need to find resources and ask for help. Yes, to cope you must develop skills. And no, I don’t think everyone can do this. But I can. What I’ve discovered is this is a situation where “You grow or you go.” Therein, however, lie the “hidden gifts”.
I would never think of yelling angrily at Donna today. I used to think addiction was the only disease you could be yelled at for having. But that’s where I started. So, I overcame believing the lie that everyone is entitled to sporadic bouts of anger and these are justified by life’s conditions, because anger is so destructive to Donna. Then I find I’ve overcome that behavior everywhere. I no longer have to be right, judge others, or always be in charge. Everything I’ve done to help Donna has benefited me across the board. Today, I am happier and more at peace. I’m a 72 year old dog learning new tricks!
Here’s another hidden gift – I used to be quite a time traveler, constantly projecting future scenarios (so I’d always be prepared, right?) or just plain living in the past. Today, for the first time in my life, my head is where my body is. I’m finally “on location” and that presence I experience has skyrocketed my availability quotient. I’m now & here. That used to be one word, nowhere.
Did I play a lot of games in my relationship? I didn’t think so, until the games died for lack of another player. How about, “I got you now you SOB”? Counting the score? Thinking, “All I do for you”? I used to think and ran my whole life on the premise that happiness came from achieving the “I wants”. Today, that’s a red flag.
One of my brothers lost his son to addiction. He has taken that tragedy and created a life purpose of being there for others, especially his wife and daughters,”his girls”. When I first heard that I thought, “that’s great for you brother, I’m so glad you’ve found this special purpose.” I was happy for him, but I didn’t get it.
Sometimes, I think it’s all about “seeing”. If I can’t see it, then I just don’t get it. But once I see it, I’ve got it – forever. I got to see the real joy that comes from service to others. The “I wants”, the anger, the fear have all just slid off of me. I even figured out that behind all of my anger was fear. The question is not, “What are you mad at?”, rather it’s “What are you afraid of?” That puts something completely different up on the table. Fear? I get that. I’m a little scared everywhere. Today, as opposed to when I was a kid, I’ve got tools to help me. “Take my hand little man” I say to the child inside myself. I can help you today. And when I ask for help, things change, instantly.
If the bottom line is quality of life, then we’re hitting a home run here. What could take me out is the associated stress or “friction”. A group of Generals in our Armed Services were attending the US Army War College in Carlisle where an instructor demonstrated the old adage that plans disintegrate after the first shot fired by showing … a Wile Coyote cartoon. Let go of your confidence in through planning and try to see the value of living a day at a time. My difficulties are not my failures but my process.
Some people measure their lives in their accomplishments. Some people measure their lives in their sacrifices. I’ve learned to measure my life in moments.
Featured image caption: “And stay silly (it’s an art!)”