Humans need belief systems. They give our world order and structure. It’s not really important what the belief system is, but it is in our nature to need one. That’s just the way human psychology works. My belief system is that everything that comes across my path has the potential to serve my higher good; However, my participation is required for that good to come to fruition.
My move back to California was motivated by a need to be closer to family, and in particular, to help in the care of my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I suspect that as I return to writing, more of my posts will be about this process. In some ways, it is not the Alzheimer’s that is the important thing here. What’s important is my capacity to love, to be mindful, to sit with difficulty, to be of service, and to surrender to the path that is laid out before me.
This is no small thing as I, by nature, am not a caretaker. I am a lover, a helper, and an educator, but not really a caretaker. It’s part of the reason I chose not to have children. But, as a child of a parent with dementia, I have now become a parent to my parent. None of us can fully plan out our lives. We are given what we are given and there are many unexpected stops along the way. It’s been my experience that those unplanned stops are what make my life interesting and/or make me more fully human.
Today I arrived at my mother’s assisted living home to find she’d been crying for the last four hours. My first response, like any good parent, was to feel very protective and hold them accountable for not calling me sooner. Then I set my anger aside to be what my mother needed me to be – soft and loving.
I entered the room and bent to kiss my mother’s blotchy face. I sat next to her, touched her shoulder with one hand and held the other in mine. I looked directly into her bloodshot and watery eyes and said, “tough morning, huh?” Her face collapsed as she nodded, her eyes hooked on mine. I did not look away but sat present with her suffering. “Are you feeling lonely, mom?” She squeaked out a, “yeah.” “I’m here now” I said, along with some other soothing comments – along with soothing touch. My mother looked at me with such trust and openness in her rawness. I am unburdened by her need for me to make it better. I know that I cannot fix it all, just as a parent cannot fix the emotional state of a five year-old. But, we hold, soothe, and stay present to ride out the storm. I think of all the times my mother has been there for me in the chaos of my childhood and the emotional wreck I call my 20s. I consider myself fortunate that I have the opportunity to help my mother in her long transition out of this world.
When I told my sister about my mother’s crying and loneliness, my sister said, “yeah, but she refuses to do things with others and just stays in her room,” as if my mother has the capacity to make wise choices at this point. I do not judge my sister. I know she is in pain. I know that it is incredibly difficult to see your own mother’s dramatic change from someone who was once so solid, independent, and rarely cried, into someone who cannot even manage her own hygiene – into someone who easily cries. Watching my own mother suffer is truly one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve known. It is also terrifying to think that one day we may follow our mother in her dementia path. Fear, loss, pain and frustration – these are the difficult emotions that come with caring for a loved-one with Alzheimer’s.
We all have our own tolerance capacity. For my sister, the frustration is more tolerable than sitting into the loss and pain, which are simply too big and overwhelming for her. My nature, on the other hand, is to dive deep. And if I am honest, I have far less tolerance for frustration than I do to sitting present with loss and pain. So my path with my mother is different. I bear her pain with her, and hope that in sharing her pain that her suffering will be diminished. Perhaps it will not, but this is what I know how to do, so this is what I offer.
What is it you have to offer? What is it that you carry that may ease the suffering of another being, even if just for a moment?