Who Will I Be?

I know myself as the sum of many experiences, relationships and desires. I was born into a loving family and lived the self-indulgent life of a middle class childhood in a safe and loving environment.  As an adult, I have lived in the city and in the wilderness – gleaning understanding and hints of wisdom from the rhythms of each.  I have taken lessons in both staking claim to my territory and sharing my space from urban density and experienced the rewards and challenges of both self-reliance and community living in the wilderness.

I am currently raising a family and building a career in rural New England.  Everything I do is about attachment.  I am attentive to maintaining strong relationships with my pre-teen sons, deeply in love with my husband and interested in supporting him as his career flourishes.  I provide a backbone of support to great educators and administrators at work, consistently seeking ways to enable others to do their best work while also putting forth mine.

In my newest role, I am maintaining a web of communication between my siblings and aunt as we navigate the changes necessary to keep my Dad safe, healthy and happy as dementia alters his perceptions, connections and ability to function autonomously.   As past and future fade away in Dad’s world, he has become more and more of himself.  Unencumbered by past or future, my Dad is flourishing.  He is kind and caring, attentive to others, gentle and deliberate in every action.  He may not know you or me. He may not know that he travelled the world in childhood, worked tirelessly in adulthood and dreamed of a golden retirement.  He may not remember the joys and challenges of raising 4 children or know the value in the comfort of the stability he created.

But he knows each moment and gives to each moment his earnest goodness.

It makes me wonder, who would I be if dementia robbed me of my past and future.  My sense of self is so deeply intertwined with the people who bring meaning to my days.  When I am untethered from relationships, past experiences and future aspirations, what will be left of me?  Who will I be?

Signs of Spring

I went outside this morning prepared to meet the springtime weather that looms on the horizon this week. It was 15 degrees – an improvement for sure, and my weather app tells me it will warm to 45 before temperatures descend again this afternoon. In my eagerness to embrace the arrival of spring, I went outside without a winter hat, gloves and coat and was soon chilled to the core and reminded that my anticipation was not enough to keep the cold wind from biting at my skin.

I am reminded that my anticipation often precedes actual changes and adjustments . . . and the real warmth of spring will arrive in fits and starts. The changing of the seasons will only be dramatic after some significant changes have taken place. Those changes will arrive slowly – or two steps forward, one step backward. Not unlike the way that my children and father are changing.

T. found waking up unbearable this morning.   After finally tearing himself out of bed to get to the breakfast table, he nibbled a few bites then retreated again to the warmth and safety of his bed. Is it his body or his mind that is too exhausted to face a new day?

He has always been susceptible to the Monday morning blues – a reluctance to leave the autonomy and self-direction of the weekend for the external structures and constraints of school, but this is the third time in a month that he has missed the bus. Maybe the physical and emotional toll of being a pre-teen will weigh heavily on him. If each day will begin this way, we have a long decade ahead of us.

I find myself wondering what I could do to support him so that he will be better able to embrace, much less face, his life. He was in bed at a reasonable hour. He ate well yesterday.

But I know there are a myriad of changes and circumstances beyond my awareness and beyond my control. He is the only one dwelling within his body, living his experience. From the outside, I cannot know the hurdles that he faces. I can try to mitigate what I anticipate or imagine them to be. I encourage balance in athletic and sedentary endeavors, make sure he eats a multi-vitamin, support an early bedtime, etc. . . . but it will always be a guessing game. I am anticipating the spring – he is in a period of change. His awakening is coming, but I cannot anticipate what it’s arrival will look like. Like the seasons, I should anticipate that it will not arrive with consistent flow. It will come in fluctuations.

Dad’s cognitive changes are similar. They come in waves, periods of stability followed by periods of decline marked by changes in awareness and cognition. With each set of change comes a series of adaptations. After each set of changes and adaptations, there is a period of grace, where his circumstances meet his abilities and awareness in harmony. When anxiety was dominating his days and safety became a concern, the family gathered together and proposed a change on his behalf.

A year ago, we moved him from his condominium to an independent living apartment in a senior living community with graduated care on site when it became necessary. Within 5 months, he was on a care plan.   Within a year, we had moved him to a smaller apartment in the assisted living building where he would have more support and oversight.

If this is Dad’s spring season, it is the beginning of an opportunity to attend to the awakening of the moment. Without the distractions of anticipation or memory, he embraces each moment of each day. Being with him encourages me to be deeply present and aware, for each moment is unhinged from the rest of time. When the birds sing, we enjoy the birds. We don’t shed our coats in anticipation that the return of the birds will bring warm weather. We simply hear and appreciate the birds. In each moment, I am aware of the grace of letting go of past and future and embrace the depth of comfort provided by our companionship and time together.

If I can bring this sense of settling into each moment and settle into being together, perhaps I will be better support for the changes and needs that this changing season brings for T. We will embrace the distractions of the hormones in his maturing brain and body. We will cultivate awareness of social pressures, history and the fears of the future that are empowering rather than overwhelming.  Then we will let the past and the future fade and rest deeply into the day we have to live today.