I passionately love the present. There I have said it. Good and bad, it's still a great ride.
There are "aha" moments in everyone's life. These are times when the light bulb not only appears over your head, but the brightness of it blinds you.
My biggest, life lesson began after my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. A sequence of active years and good quality of life had brought us to a new place. Due to life threatening health issues, my sister was unable to assume the role of caregiver. Though originally that had been Plan A, it was no longer an option. Circumstances presented themselves and I found myself to be the best candidate among my siblings to assume the position as primary point caregiver. Since I live in a small town in North Carolina, healthcare options and facilities were limited. Nonetheless, I moved my Mom to a facility near me in South Carolina which had a "memory care" unit just a few miles from my home. And so the rollercoaster ride began and my safety harness was not at all secure.
With more than 25 years navigating as a business professional and trained to deal with issues by working harder, being more creative or tapping into bigger resources, I could "fix" anything. Suddenly, the reality hit me right between the eyes. I couldn't "fix" this.
I slowly realized my priorities needed to change and my approach needed to change, too.
Over the next several months, the smiling, spirited, loving, stubbornly Irish woman I called Mom, became my best friend in a new way. I began to live in the moment and enjoyed things as they happened. I faced things one-day-at-a-time. The anger about why her, why me and all the other whys stopped. The focus instead turned to: What can I do to bring some happiness, some moment of joy into our lives every day? Easier said than done on some days. Then I realized, not every day is a good day for me either; so we allow ourselves good and bad days. It is that simple.
The days that I can achieve the giggles and the smiles are priceless to me. I can have a terrible day at the office, but step into her room and be transformed. I see the smile as she beckons me to come to her to collect my daily hug and kiss and when I do, I am five-years-old all over again. Her love shines through, not the illness, and actually, sometimes, I think in spite of it.
Though the verbal communication can be garbled some days, on others it can be clear enough to hear: "Where have you been?" or "Sit with me." I pay attention. I soothe. Don't get me wrong, I have some days I title: "Until the Hot Water Runs Out" which means I cry in the shower and let the frustration and sadness flow --until the hot water runs out. It helps and it keeps me sane, every now and then.
I am blessed to have some wonderful guardian angel caregivers as well. Each brings their special gift of love, spirit and personality to my mom and she appreciates them all in her own way. Each communicates differently, some kind words, a wink, a nod, a special language all their own.
In addition, I am fortunate, as my siblings are supportive and assist and visit as often as they can. In its own obscure way, this terrible disease has strengthened the ties among us. I think Mom would be proud to realize we stuck together as a family despite the adversity. But maybe she wouldn't be that surprised after all, because that is her legacy to us -- strength and love. That is one of the many things she taught us so many years ago.
My obsession with "fixing" still shows up now and again and I always look for better ways to do things with and for her. It's my way of smoothing out some of the bumps in our road. I am unsure of where that road will take us over the days, months or even years ahead. I am glad that the light from the bulb blinded me. It illuminated more than just the familial obligation, but shed some light on where to find the more unusual and unexpected joys and blessings in life.
Gratitude can show up in some very unusual places these days.
Note: Since writing this article on gratitude, I lost my Mom, Vera Smith Counihan, to Alzheimer's disease. I miss her every day. She was my best friend. Deep down, I think she knew that..
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