I am blessed by friends who know me well enough to know what I might like or need or relate to – and send or share such findings to me.
From my friend Helen McLaughlin, of Weekly Findings, came this NY Times article on the memoir by Dana Walrath, Aliceheimer: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass.
Dana Walrath uses drawings and stories to chronicle three years of caregiving for her mother, Alice, who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The experience turned out to be a magical trip down the rabbit hole of memory loss, an outcome that inspired Dr. Walrath, a medical anthropologist . . . to share their tale.
And these are Dana’s words that let loose the flood gates of tears that I hold back every day.
Of course there is loss involved, but the more we can see people living in this state as useful true humans who might teach us all something about living in the present, about knowing sides of our loved ones that social processes kept inaccessible, the better it will be.
One of the most difficult aspects of relating to my mother is the discomfort I experience over what feels like lying. When she asks questions about when she can go home, or about the goings on in the restaurant she used to own, or my father who passed away years ago, it only upsets her if I explain or correct her. I play along with her reality, trying my best to redirect her attention to another topic. This is hard work.
It was refreshing to read Dana’s advice . . .
Learn to read the signs and messages embedded in your loved one’s actions. Often what looks delusional is an attempt to express a deeply felt need or desire. Dementia has them communicating through a code that we can track. Use the “Yes, and” principle from improv — in which you accept what the other person has said (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”) — to build on what your loved one is experiencing instead of contradicting them, and it will be easier to decipher his or her intentions.
. . . and to embrace the notion that my mother and my sisters and I are in this journey together and the destination may be a place of greater love and compassion.
Dementia lets all of us connect back to our deepest memories, to a time when we could communicate — give and receive stories — through the looks in each other’s eyes, through touch, facial expressions, actions and gestures. In this way, even in the midst of loss, dementia lets us heal.