As I was thinking about plans I’d made for a day trip with Mom last weekend, I noticed that I was in a very different place mentally and emotionally with regards to my mother than I was a year ago. Mom has Alzheimer’s, a tragic, progressive form of dementia that eventually leaves people unable to care for themselves.
A year ago I had just moved Mom into assisted living. At that time she was unhappy and unsettled about the change. It took everything in my patience arsenal to get through every interaction with her. Consequently, I felt burdened by the responsibility I had, resentful that Mom had Alzheimer’s, mad that everything seemed so hard. I was focused on the difficulty and struggle. I had a “I’m worn out, scared, resentful” perspective of my reality. If I’d been planning a day with Mom last year that perspective would have made me dread taking the day trip.
What I noticed this time is that I was looking forward to having an adventure with Mom, to having the chance to bring her some pleasure by having lunch with an old friend, to having a great trip through the country listening to music we both love. My perspective had shifted. The current perspective is, “This is an opportunity to connect with Mom where she is, to enjoy special moments in her company, to make a new memory for me.”
How did that perspective shift? I wasn’t aware that I was trying to operate with a very limiting, negative perspective last year. I was just doing the best I could. Part of what happened with is that enough time has gone by and Mom has adjusted to her new home and is less scared, threatened and oppositional about her living situation. She has adjusted to her new home and has forgotten much of her previous life. Ironically, that’s one of the gifts of dementia.
I’ve also had a lot more experience dealing with Mom in her impaired state. I have figured out what works with her and what doesn’t. At some point I began making a conscious effort to go with the dementia rather than resent and fight it. Since I couldn’t change what’s happening to my beloved mother, I chose to observe it with curiosity. I watch the changes and make adjustments to my behavior in order to accept what is and make the most of a very sad time.
Instead of focusing on my sadness, I spend more time looking for ways to give her pleasure, even as this terrible disease is robbing her of so much that is precious to her — her ability to take care of herself, her ability to anchor memories, her ability to read, her ability to understand language and communicate with people who matter to her. By going with the flow of the disease process and looking for opportunities to demonstrate the love I feel for her, I’ve landed in a much more accepting and positive place myself.
If you have a difficult situation in your life, check out your perspective about that challenge. What are you thinking? Are you holding a positive, helpful perspective or clinging to a limiting perspective that keeps you feeling like a victim of circumstances beyond your control? Choosing a new way of thinking about your situation can change your experience from negative and burdensome to positive and life-affirming. My mother’s disease has taught me so many important lessons. The lesson I’m sharing with you now is that changing the way I view things can change my experience of them. I’ve learned to look for and spend time with what I can control, my thoughts and my perspective.