45: Learning Acceptance

45: Learning Acceptance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Learning Acceptance

You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.

~Jan Glidewell

Mom was everything to me: best friend, confidante, trusted advisor, and my biggest cheerleader. Hearing her say she was proud of the mother I had become to my own daughter was tantamount to winning the most prestigious honor on earth.

Despite the closeness we shared, I’m sure I took her and our relationship for granted more often than I’d like to admit. It’s what we do. We get wrapped up in our busy lives, succumb to everyday stresses, and operate as though our loved ones will always be there. And then, something like Alzheimer’s comes along and turns our world upside down.

Of course I knew my mother wouldn’t live forever, but things unfolded in a way I never imagined. We were supposed to have another twenty years to travel, shop, and bake together. We think of Alzheimer’s as a disease of the elderly, but Mom was barely sixty-seven. I didn’t understand what was happening and there was such a sense of denial, frustration, and anger.

At first, it was almost like being returned to the turmoil of my teen years. My initial reaction was that she had somehow caused this by not staying active enough when she retired. I made a calendar for her and filled each week with activities — my way of encouraging her to “keep moving.” Most of it was ignored. Now I look back and wonder if she was failing much sooner than we realized and the withdrawal was a function of the disease rather than vice versa.

There’s no question that our relationship suffered until I finally reached a point of acceptance. I had to stop expecting her to “try harder” and “do more.” I had to accept that she couldn’t help what was happening to her, and most of all I had to adjust to the fact that she was becoming the child, and I, the parent. In hindsight, I wish I could have done all of those things sooner than I did — so much time was wasted.

Ultimately, however, our connection was strengthened exponentially, and I felt closer to her than ever before. It’s a testament to the fact that even immense loss and heartbreak can bring blessings.

Although she lost her speech very early on, we managed to communicate until the end, whether through an affectionate look, a shared smile, or a gentle touch. And every once in a while, in a gift of all gifts, she would manage to say, “I love you.”

Alzheimer’s teaches us the fundamental meaning of compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love. It shows us that even the most ordinary experiences can be extraordinary, and although the pain of losing someone to this disease is indescribable, it reminds us that not a single moment should be taken for granted.

Almost a year after her passing, I treasure the simple things more than ever. In a world of instant gratification, material belongings, and confused priorities, we tend to forget that tomorrow is not promised. I still have my moments, but clear perspective now rises closer to the surface than ever before.

Thank you, Mom, for continuing to be my teacher and constant source of strength and inspiration — today and always.

~Ann Napoletan

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