We in the Alzheimer’s community talk a lot about the disappointing and challenging aspects of the disease. One thing we particularly talk about is loss.
A family’s shared loss is palpable. We live with it daily, between the here and now and what used to be.
Caregivers reside in the mire of what has already been taken away, but we also continue to muddle through what is cast aside every day. We don’t merely feel loss — we live it. Loss is a deep life experience. With Alzheimer’s disease, it is both ongoing and permanent, and there is no turning back. We have only an onward march to the end.
Our loved ones for whom we provide care continue to travel downhill cognitively, losing ground as they go. We slip and slide alongside them, supporting them in their descent as best we can. Yes, we follow the doctor’s orders and hope to slow the disease’s progression with medication while we pray for a cure, but the slippery slope into deep loss continues. It can be depressing.
Loss is a normal life experience
Here’s the thing: Loss is part of life. When a baby breathes the first breath, the march toward the end begins.
There are predictable losses along the way. Failures and sadness are intertwined with ecstatic periods of happiness and joy.
Loss is arguably one of the most present experiences that life has for us, but as we grow into adulthood, we learn to deal with it. We lose jobs, friends, and parents. Some lose children, which in my estimation must be the greatest sorrow of all.
The pain of loss is palpable with Alzheimer’s disease, and if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into the abyss of wishing for days gone by. For example, a caregiver might have a birthday, and while blowing out candles, look backward instead of forward, wishing for something they can’t have.
“I wish my mom were fully here,” they might think. Or, “I wish I could go back home just one more time to run into their arms and have them recognize me.”
We wish for all of the things we used to have, for the shared experiences our loved one now can’t recall.
Far be it for me to beat you up for wishing. I’ve done it, and it’s OK. But we can’t stay in that foggy place between a wishful dream and reality for long. It’s far better to visit those thoughts only once in a while, and then concentrate on living in the moment. All we have is this minute, this second, and this breath.
This is true for everyone. We don’t know what the next second will bring, and for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, only the moments and seconds are important, as they may not remember what happened in the last half-hour. They only have right now, so let’s live it with them.
It’s unhealthy to continually wish for what we can’t bring back. Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible, but we can reverse our mental direction toward hope and living in the moment with our loved one and who they have become. We can understand that they’re still here, not just physically, but also their souls are present.
Yes, staying in the moment is difficult, but try to work at it. Watch how your loved one’s eyes will light up over a simple gesture. Making them happy in this second will make you happy.
Staying in the moment may provide an occasional glimpse into the soul of the person you are providing care for. Every once in a while, you might connect for a second, like you did in the old days before dementia took its toll. Embrace that moment.
There’s a great song by the artist Jeremy Camp called “Keep Me in the Moment.” In it, he sings, “I don’t wanna miss what you have for me.” I don’t know Jeremy, but if I didn’t know any better, I might imagine he wrote those lyrics for me. I don’t want to miss today while wishing for yesterday, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either.
As Camp says, “Keep me in the moment. Help me live with my eyes wide open. … Show me what matters.”
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.
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