Balancing Happiness and Heartache in Alzheimer’s
Close your eyes and picture your loved one with Alzheimer’s. What memories come rushing in? What images flash before your eyes?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about memories as they relate to my mom. This October, it marks eight years since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
And as anyone reading this blog knows, a lot can happen during eight years with Alzheimer’s.
When I think of Mom and Alzheimer’s, it opens the floodgates to life-shaping memories, deep felt emotions, and crystallized moments that I’ll never forget.
If I had to sum it up, the most defining memories fall into two categories: moments of pure joy and moments of crushing heartache.
It’s like a simple scale. One side is filled with moments of laughter, smiles, and love, while the other side bears a load of emotional pain, streams of tears, and heartfelt loss.
On the side of joy, I recall many precious moments:
- I picture Mom holding my newborn, Morgan, at the hospital. Her eyes glisten with tears as she holds her 31st grandchild.
- I see Mom walking with my daughters to the park holding hands, a connection of love that can endure.
- I see Mom’s radiant smile that shows her inner warmth and kind heart.
- I feel the lifelong mother-daughter connection when she stares deeply into my eyes.
However, there’s the other side of the scale that I can’t ignore—the side of pain:
- I’ll never forget when Mom looked me right in the eye and asked, “Who are you?”
- I can’t erase the pain I saw in her eyes the day we took her car keys away and said, “Mom, you can’t drive anymore.”
- I’ll always remember the day my daughter asked, “What’s wrong with Grandma? Why does she forget everything?”
- I’ll never forget having to tell my daughters the truth about their beloved grandma’s illness—it’s incurable.
But on this scale of memories, I choose to balance it on the side of happiness.
The simplest joys of life that I still experience with Mom far outweigh the any pain of the past.
By focusing on happiness, I make a conscious choice to celebrate the good days.
And with this perspective, I’ve realized that Mom continues to remind me about some of most important lessons of life.
As Mom has progressed into the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, the time I spend with her is my recurring wake-up call to what really matters.
During a recent visit, Mom was very tired. We sat together and I caressed her hand as she dozed.
In sitting with Mom, I turned off the noise inside my head, shut down my mental to-do list and was simply present in her world.
Spending time with Mom reminds me to pause, to slow down, and just enjoy the everyday pleasures of life. On many days, Mom sits in the sunlight and just fully appreciates its beauty and warmth.
In watching her, I can’t help but think to myself—when was the last that I paused to acknowledge the dazzling splendor of the sun?
On most days, my life is filled with rushing to work, running the kids to soccer and dance, and scrambling to put dinner on the table.
It’s a hectic pace that runs at full-throttle six cylinders, while the days spent with Mom is like a relaxed stroll along the beach.
While Alzheimer’s is a long road filled with everything from joyful moments to stinging emotional pain, it’s also a path in which we can continue to learn from our loved ones.
They may slowly slip into the advanced stages of this disease, but their spirit, their love, and their life lessons remain—if we choose to pause and see them.
How do you balance your scale of memories? Happiness vs. Heartache? What have your learned from a loved one in the journey of Alzheimer’s? Feel free to post a comment below.
Kerry Lonergan Luksic is a writer, an Alzheimer’s advocate, and author of the memoir, Life Lessons from a Baker’s Dozen: 1 Mother, 13 Children, and their Journey to Peace with Alzheimer’s. Ten-percent of royalties earned will be donated to Alzheimer’s support and research programs. Some of her other Alzheimer’s advocacy work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Star Ledger, The Main Line Times, WHYY NewsWorks, and Parents Express. She lives with her husband and three daughters outside of Philadelphia.