Mirroring 'I Love You'
Each September, World Alzheimer’s Month is your chance to join the global fight against Alzheimer’s disease. There are more than 35 million people worldwide living with dementia and more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia. “Go Purple” on Friday, September 21st to mark Alzheimer's Action Day.
Recently, we spoke with a friend who is an Alzheimer’s caregiver to her husband.
During the conversation, she related that they recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
When I asked how he was doing, she smiled gently and said, “You know, he tells me he loves me now more than he has in all our 50 years of marriage. He must tell me a hundred times a day.”
The beauty of her statement literally stole my ability to speak.
My husband, Daniel, said, “He must be mirroring your speech and actions.” She smiled and said, “You know, I’m so glad I learned not to argue with him, to live in the moment and just love him as he is.”
Given our friend’s very difficult circumstances, I asked my initial question expecting a list of all the things wrong in her life. Instead, I got a glimpse of what love really looks like.
In my observation, those who weather the Alzheimer’s caregiving storm and emerge with spirits intact have these things in common: the ability to live in the moment and the ability to love the person with Alzheimer’s disease as he or she is.
That kind of love drives out two demons of caregivers everywhere -- anger and bitterness. So often we see caregivers fighting every moment, tooth and nail, to bring back their loved ones as they were before Alzheimer’s disease.
When they are unsuccessful, they become angry and bitter -- at God, their loved ones with Alzheimer’s, their situation, any number of things.
This anger and bitterness colors every interaction they have with their loved ones. It steals their ability to have patience and to react with kindness. It even affects their relationships with other friends and family.
How do you avoid this trap? First, forgive anyone with whom you are angry -- God, yourself, and your loved one, for starters. This process will take time.
However, every time anger rears its ugly head, an ongoing commitment to forgiveness steals anger’s ability to take over your life.
When you find yourself falling into that pit of anger, make a conscious decision to forgive, yet again.
If you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, many of your choices are made for you and dictated by your circumstances. The main thing, often the only thing, you can control is your own reaction. Don’t let anger be your choice.
Second, let go of the bitterness you may harbor about your unfair circumstances and your lack of control over much of what happens in life.
Those of us who are perfectionists have the hardest time with this. Your loved one’s behavior will be erratic, perhaps highly inappropriate.
He will say things that don’t make sense. He will want to wear things that don’t go together. He may accuse you of dreadful wrongs, even crimes.
Your ability to have time to yourself will be greatly curtailed, even completely taken away at times.
All these things are true, but those who come through with spirits intact understand that this is a season in their lives, one which has a beginning and an end.
Allowing yourself to become bitter -- or not -- is a choice you alone control.
Finally, try to channel your emotions into something positive. Is there a cause near and dear to your heart? Do you have particular gifts you could offer to that cause?
Anger and bitterness foster depression, which undermines self-worth. Nothing lifts a person’s spirits more than helping others.
Can you sew? I know a home-bound woman who sewed helmet coolers for soldiers serving in the Middle East and clothing for children in African orphanages.
Can you write? Perhaps you could write letters to soldiers serving overseas. Is there a friend who could use encouragement? Make the commitment to contact that person regularly.
These things and many others can be done from home as time allows.
Live in the moment. Love him as he is now, without regrets at what used to be or what might have been.
Let all the anger and bitterness go, and mirror, “I love you” instead.
Ellen Woodward Potts, MBA has over 20 years’ experience in healthcare management and teaches “Leadership Development through Service,” a survey course of non-profit organizations, at the University of Alabama. She currently serves as Managing Partner for Dementia Dynamics, LLC, and as Board President for Caring Congregations, an inter-faith organization that operates 3 dementia daycare centers, a GPS locator program, and other dementia support services. Through A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, she strives to honor the care her family members gave her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, both of whom had Alzheimer’s disease.
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