Did you ever have a time when you were swimming under water and the surface was just out of reach? When you had a split moment that you felt your lungs start to scream air, hurry, please! That analogy what I used to think. Of how it must feel to the soul waging war against a mind thief. I used to think that a soul with Alzheimer’s or Dementia must feel a certain drowning as their memories slip away. That if they could just push up from the bottom of the lake, they would break through before the memories began to fade.
Then this thought occurred to me the other day. That perhaps it is not a drowning taking place. I thought about the times in meditation an image comes into view. How when I then try to write it down, words to do justice are few. The imagery I see not translatable, yet I try. Some things can only be felt, shared between this stillness and I. I then pondered if someone whose mind brings the past into now as if it is reality, could it be that they are seeing indescribable breathtaking imagery?
I could hear in her voice the pain is great. Her witness to four family members minds slipping away. There is nothing beautiful about this disease, her words conveying the heartbreaking journey. Enduring witness to her family members locked behind a door in which she couldn’t find the key. Feeling her memories robbed or altered as her family members could no longer remember her name and why her familiar face. Not the kind of new memories with her loved ones she had ever wanted made.
I started to think what if we could hear a confused loved one differently? When a loved one is talking as if we are someone else, what if we asked more about who they see? Though our heart might break in two longing for them not to forget our name, what if we asked the importance of who they see in our place? Could we build a puzzle that would speak not of loss but of gain? If we started to capture the faces, names, and memories that appear “out of the blue”, would we be able to hear an extraordinary story that is trying to flow through?
Instead of our heart breaking that our loved one is becoming someone we don’t know, would we have the opportunity to get to know sides of them they hadn’t shown? Perhaps we didn’t know how a grandmother felt as a teenager or a grandfather as a little boy. Maybe they would talk about a childhood friend or one of their most prized toys. Or maybe we never knew some of their dreams. Perhaps their recollection would be our discovery?
I read something a few months ago about the importance of meeting people where they are at, not where we stand, so to speak. In other words, honor each person for what they believe, feel, or think, not what we wish they would based on our own needs. Do we have an opportunity amid a disease that feels like someone is turning their back and walking away to stand still, to lean in, to hear and hear again in what they have to say? Instead of reading between the lines looking for what we want to stay familiar and unchanged, what if we instead embraced curiosity as if un-burying treasure from a secret place?
I don’t write of this pondering light-heartedly, no disrespect meant to those whose hearts grieve. I can only imagine the sorrow if you have a loved one where Alzheimer’s or Dementia has become their final walk of life. Though my Grandma walked with Dementia, we were blessed with her reaching her nineties before the erasing of her mind. I offer these words in the days when you might be searching for hope and for faith. To find a gift or two in what feels like a piece of your foundation being swept away. May you remember that through the clouds, blue skies can still shine. That the loved one is still there even though not of same mind. The mind may be behind a door you are unable to open yet still has the same rhythmic heartbeat and soul. Lean your ear close to their heart, close your eyes, and listen – there is the person you have always known.