I am struggling with this issue and so I am working it out on my blog. There are just so many motivators in our lives. Things that impress upon us, and then are gone. Other things that leave an indent, a note in our hearts that let us know this is something really important. Recently, my mom’s battle with the most insidious disease, Alzheimer’s (and unfortunately, Dementia), has caused me to sort of shut down and reflect. Truly, once Alzheimer’s touches your life in some way, it leaves a mark. Loosing your mind is just such a horrific thing. I know of soldiers who would rather have lost limbs than suffer through TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury, which mimics Alzheimer’s and Dementia. My mother is blessed with both Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Depending upon the source material, they are strains of the same thing. One is considered an illness, one a disease. One starts the process, one completes it. I’ll explain it this way: Dementia means I can’t remember the past 10 minutes. Why am I in this room? Did I eat breakfast? What day is it? Did I talk to you earlier? And the world revolves and comes back to the same point about every ten minutes. There are periods of lucidity wherein the person knows they don’t know. And those moments hurt. When my mom and I have a lucid moment together, she knows she is sick. She knows she forgets people, places, and things. She knows it hurts us and is hard for us. And she gets very angry because she knows that soon she won’t have these lucid moments and is frustrated that she cannot stop it. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, involves more of the physicality of the person, as well as basic memory. They forget what a fork is for, or how to use it. They forget to get to the bathroom, or even what a toilet is for. They forget to bathe. They often don’t eat. They wear the same thing, day in and day out, not realizing it. Eventually, the body’s autonomic functions are affected to the point where they cease to function, and death ensues. It is almost as if the body cannot remember how to function, and they die. A person with just dementia can live until a ripe old age. A person with Alzheimer’s has a limited lifespan. My mom, as I said, was doubly blessed. Her world is contracting. The past two weeks, it has been contracting at a rapid pace. Events and occurrences have brought her disease to the forefront. Medications aren’t really doing much at this point. We are almost where we have to start making choices for her, decisions that affect her, whether she likes it or not. We are going to have to define her level of competency. And I know, after today, that I will have to go in person soon, meet with her caregivers and physician, and start taking over the decision making for her, and it is frightening. We thought we had another 2-3 years, at least we had hoped we did, but it is looking more and more like something will have to happen in 2015. My stepsister and I have agonized over this, and we are both so very sad.
My father is 88 years old. He is almost exactly 30 years older than me. My oldest son and I are almost the exact same distance in age apart, as well. My dad has always prided himself on his ability to think. He pursued, doggedly and even when success eluded him, advanced degrees. He was raised in England and New Zealand and studying in America was very difficult for him. He struggled but finally got his Master’s and PhD. And he is proud of his accomplishments. He and I have always struggled because he maintains he is always right. He told me, “I’m right until you can prove me wrong.” Ever so simply and confidently, taunting me to think more about what I wanted to share with him, never letting me be intellectually lazy. And now he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as well. He has moderate-onset, which is much milder than my mother’s has become. The fact that they both have Alzheimer’s and are on the exact same medication and dosages is ironic, at best. They live in vastly different climates and situations, in different states, but both talk about one another when they talk to me, and both ask about the other. Like I said, ironic, at best.
Every once in awhile, I am unable to remember the simplest things. I will think about something and my mind will be a blank, white, wall. Not even a scratch on it. Not a trace of a memory. And it scares me. Truly frightens me. I do not want to end up like my mom. My dad is at the stage where he is just angry, trying to wrap his head around his dilemma, because he is just beginning the Alzheimer’s journey. My mom is getting nasty with others and her short term memory is down to 10 minutes on a good day. And I am scared that it will be me before long. I know I can become more proactive to prevent this situation, but the genetics are there and it is frightening. I always remember relatives who were considered, “looney old aunt Mabel.” Most people had senile people in their family trees. If only Dementia and Alzheimer’s were so simple. I pray I become just senile and it stops with that, because the last thing I want to be is an emotional and physical burden to my husband or children. And I know how it feels to watch the two people in your world who always cared for you, and were always strong and there for you, wither away as mine are doing. And I wish, I pray, that the decline wasn’t so rapid and obvious. My heart is breaking.
I started this post on my blog with a meme about the “4-horsed chariot, bearing the intellect to Heaven.” Those four things are stillness, prayer, love, and self-control. As someone facing the issues I have with my parents, I am longing for peace, for assurety and confidence in my future, in their future, and their eternity. My mom pretty much ignores faith in her life. She went to Church with my stepdad because he insisted on it; he wanted to go. He was Catholic and somehow was able to go to confession and receive communion; he was anointed just prior to his death. He felt at peace. My mom has not gone to Church since he passed. I believe perhaps once or twice to connect with friends, but she has long stopped attending Mass (she is not even Catholic). My dad sought out faith like a dedicated miner. He dug through a lot of philosophies. When he came up against the historic Church, however, he stopped looking. He told me once, “If I wasn’t married to who I am married, I would be Catholic.” My conundrum is that I worry for their eternity. My father has worked out his own, personal salvation with God and I am leaving it in His hands. I worry mostly for my mom because no one in her life ever bothered to catechize her and whenever I tried, she pushed me away. It actually angered her when I would talk to her about it. Although, to be honest, she told me often that she wished she had what my husband and I have…our faith. I am sorry, too. I feel like time is catching up with me on this, and I need some time to stop, recollect, ponder and work this out.
Some days I feel like I am standing on a precipice and that I’m about to fall; I don’t feel like the landing will be gentle. I’m overwhelmed with regrets and sadness for the life I never had (My parents staying married; a place I could take my kids to that said, “This is Grandma and Grandpa’s house and I grew up here.”) and was not able to give to my kids (We have moved a lot). I’m sad my parents divorced and how nasty it was and how much hurt it generated, even if it was done when I was in my early 20s. The pain was intense, even for a young adult. I sought counseling for it and am eternally grateful for the therapist, who on my first visit, was smart enough to hand my a box of tissues and just sit there while I spewed. And bawled. And spewed some more. I don’t think we had an actual discussion until my 3rd or 4th visit. Ha-Ha. Smart woman. I worry about my agnostic brother, who keeps his distance and has his own demons chasing him. I regret I haven’t been able to share my faith with him and help him to find more peace in the world (he thinks religion is for weak-minded people and he has no need of it in his life). I remember so much joy in my childhood and cling to the memories of times at my grandparent’s home, surrounded by extended family. I remember the smell and feel of holding my children as infants and am reminded of their unbridled joy each time I hear my grandchildren laugh. And today I sit on this precipice with all these things around me. Some have left deep indents, and my heart knows they are important, as I said above. Some I let go, knowing they aren’t truly life-altering, and I gave them too much credence. Others, well, I am wrestling. Wrestling with doubts, fears, longings, and love.
As I prepare to enter yet another Great Lent, I am looking at what I need to deal with. A wise priest once told me that during Lent, we can give things up, or we can choose to do things we haven’t tried, yet. I truly believe this meme has given me the groundwork I need to focus on, the basics, to assist my “intellect to Heaven.” Silence is something that I love and have embraced far more than most people who know me would think. Being still, and allowing silence and stillness to envelope you can be such a peaceful moment; it can heal. In the still, silent world we can erect around ourselves, we can enter more deeply into prayer. We can listen for God’s whispers in a still and silent world much easier than in the chaos of this world. When we listen for, and hear, God’s action in our lives, we are overwhelmed with Love. The love of God, of other. We can get outside of ourselves and help the person next to us. It can re-energize us enough to carry on. And self-control is much simpler in a still and quiet place we erect, filled with prayer and love. My four-horsed chariot, as St. Thalassios the Libyan so wonderfully stated.
There is much work to be done to make this happen for me. I am ditching much of the social media in my life. It only adds to the noise and rattling I really don’t need to listen to, anyway. My prayer life has slackened lately and it needs to be rejuvenated. The love I feel towards my family and friends will only be more focused with stillness and prayers, and I am determined that while I can, each of them will know how much I love them. The self-control, for me, comes in regards to speech (stillness/silence), being out and about outside of my home, and my health/weight. I need to control my appetites in a few areas. Mostly I want to focus on being healthier, so I do not expose my family and friends to what I am going through with my parents. I want to be healthy for my grandchildren. I want to share their lives as long as I can, as healthily as I can. All horses need regular feeding and exercise, as well as practice. Especially horses that are destined to be leading my chariot, and in it my intellect, to heaven.
Great Lent is right around the corner. It is time to prepare. Pray for me as I will pray for you, in the stillness.