Who Are Your People?

Years ago, we were living in Mobile, Alabama when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami.  As it traveled northwest across the Gulf of Mexico, hurricane warnings were issued as far east as Pascagoula, Mississippi, about 30 miles from our small apartment on the western side of town.

I went into Civil Defense preparedness mode.

Daniel, a medical student at the time, was in Birmingham for a one month neurology internship, so I was on my own.

My first thought was to load up everything we owned and head north.  However, I quickly realized that there was only so much my Honda Accord would hold.  As I looked around that apartment, I realized most everything could be replaced.

In the end, I packed very few things, and only those things that reminded me of relationships.

First, I packed my great grandmother’s coverlet.  She grew the flax, spun the thread, dyed the thread, and wove it into a thing of great beauty.

Secondly, I packed photographs of our wedding, our family, and our friends.  I added some quilts sewn by various women of previous generations, and a tea service which belonged to my great grandmother’s sister.

All this memorabilia provided me with a link to my past.  It reminded me of where I came from and who my people were.   If you get two true Southerners together, you just about always can find a familial relationship between them or, failing that, a non-familial relationship to their people.

As it happened Hurricane Andrew veered westward and Mobile was not affected.  However, this exercise taught me a lesson I hope I never forget:

The only things that matter in life are our relationships, and the things that remind us of our relationships.

This time of year, we tend to get lost in the clutter of life — what gifts we should buy, what we should cook, how we should decorate, etc.  It can be a difficult time of year for everyone, but especially for Alzheimer’s caregivers.  Life is stressful enough without the complications we impose on ourselves for the holidays!

I challenge you to take stock of your life, especially if you are an Alzheimer’s caregiver, and weed out the things that don’t matter.

The people we love and those who love us matter, and the things that remind us of them matter.  Most everything else does not.

The beautiful thing for families living with Alzheimer’s is that the people we love and the things that remind us of them are the very things which help us connect with our loved ones, even in the midst of Alzheimer’s disease.

Look at old pictures, bring out familiar objects, sing favorite carols.  These are all things you can do with your family to remind your loved one of the only thing that matters, relationships.

If your loved one thinks it’s 1940, go to 1940 with him.  If he thinks the grandchildren are really the children, make it into a game of pretend for everyone.  Be with him wherever he is, in the moment where he can experience the loving relationships of his people.

During this most joyful of seasons, we wish all of you the blessing of loving relationships and happy memories of your people.

About the Author

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Between the two of them, Ellen Woodward Potts and her husband, neurologist Dr. Daniel Potts, helped care for eight family members (four grandparents, three great aunts and Daniel’s father) with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Their book, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, summarizes all the things they wish they and their families had known as they traveled their caregiving journey. When not writing and speaking about Alzheimer’s disease, Ellen serves as Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa, and teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama Honors College. She and Daniel live in Tuscaloosa with their two daughters, Julie and Maria, and their miniature dachshund, Heidi.

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