I have often thought about what simple, yet empowering ways there are to relate to loved ones who have Alzheimer’s, if faith alone is not enough to keep hope and light in one’s awareness at such a critical time of the life journey together. I would say this post on just gave the answer:
“Part of the human experience, for me anyway, is to keep the memories of those who have gone before. Of times…of moments that were pivotal in each life as well as those which impacted our collective experience. It is why I love, LOVE to read and study history – always have!
It is the collection of stories across time that speaks to me. It is the people and the choices they made. How a seemingly inconsequential decision can have tremendous impacts on individual as well as communal lives. It is fascinating to me. It is also an acknowledgement that there are some stories we choose to tell, to hold onto and some that we relegate to the deep caverns of our memory.
The holding close of memories became very personal for me almost 15 years ago when my father at 62 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He is still with us, a shell of himself now but you should see his smile! That man, ravaged by disease is able to light up a room and connect with everyone around him simply by breaking into a smile that still touches his bright blue eyes!
Memory keeping, I have discovered, is a holy endeavor!
When dad was first diagnosed my mom and I were ill prepared for what we were going to face. We had no clue really, but how could you!
They were still working and active and looking forward to the day they could retire – play golf and travel. Those plans were never realized. But isn’t that often the case – for all of us – every day?
There are 5.7 million people in the United States who rely on their loved ones to be memory keepers and that number is only expected to grow! I can tell you from personal experience that it is heart breaking – watching the progression of this disease. Watching your loved one lose more and more of themselves day-by-day. My dad, my tall, proud, kind, funny (if you listened closely), quiet, loving, giving, capable, responsible dad – can’t feed himself any longer – and that breaks my heart.
Without those who love him keeping the story of his life alive he would already be lost to time even as his heart continues to beat strongly within his chest. His story connected to so many other stories is too important to allow to fade. Just as everyone’s story is.
And so we visit him, and talk about the time he spent hours patiently talking my cat Patches out of a tree. Or the Panther football games that he attended with lifelong friends that are simply called The Group. Or the trips he and mom were able to take to Greece, Ireland, Alaska before Alzheimer’s took that away. Or the “Leigh Ann, that is enough” and suddenly my 13 year old self understood that is was.
And then we keep him up-to-date about how life is continuing – we tell him about his grands and his great-grands, oldest daughter’s wedding plans, returning to the church of my childhood…we read to him, talk NC State football with him and ask him how he is. Sometimes there are words or sounds but not so much anymore. For the most part there is a smile that touches my soul and reminds me how proud I am to be his daughter and how honored I am to keep his memories
Memory keeping is a holy endeavor.”