Faithful readers may have noticed there’s been a lot more talk of goodlifery than homesteading lately. There’s a good reason. Two reasons, actually. My Mom and Dad.
Both are battling their own long-term illnesses, and I feel fortunate that my sisters and I are able to look after them. While caregiving can be all-consuming, I never cease to be amazed at the lessons my parents are still teaching me. Especially my mother, whose Alzheimer’s has stripped life to its very essence.
- There is no past or future. Only the present. Your previous successes or failures don’t matter. Regret and guilt are a waste of time. There is only this moment, maybe sitting in a swing, holding the hand of someone you love, someone you suddenly realize won’t always be here. Savor each moment and live in it fully. Memorize it. The rest of the world can wait.
- Say “I love you” to the end. Mom only has about three sentences left in her repertoire, but one of them is “I love you soooo much, baby.” Let it be said of all of us that love is the last thing we let go of.
- Memories can save you. A few days ago, Mom was in the hospital and absolutely terrified of the needles, the pain, the moving bed, and the constantly changing faces around her. Nothing could console her as she wept for hours. At one point, I began reminiscing about Nugget, our old dog who hasn’t been with us for thirty years — a dog who worshiped my Mom and was never more than a few feet away from her for twelve years. Within two minutes, she smiled, closed her eyes, and drifted peacefully off to sleep. My sister and I stared at each other in disbelief. Never underestimate the power of your memory. So store as many people, experiences, and adventures in there as you can. You never know when one might show up to save the day.
- Don’t hide from heartbreak — joy is often lurking in its shadows. With Alzheimer’s comes confusion, fear, and lots of tears. When Mom is crying, I like to read to her and sing lullabies. It doesn’t always help, but when it does, it’s the most profound connection. I find it beautiful when I can comfort her now as she did when I was little. We’ve come full circle, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
- Don’t whine about chores. Emptying the dishwasher and doing laundry now feel like a privilege. And every time you take a shower, enjoy it for the luxury it is. None of us will be able to take care of ourselves forever, so give thanks for your independence.
- Enjoy food. No matter how bad things get, Mom relaxes and enjoys the experience of eating more than anyone I know. A treat like ice cream will send her over the moon. With every bite, she lets herself be nourished physically and emotionally — a lesson we should all take to the dinner table.
- We have now. This interview (click on 4EVER YOURS) makes me weep just thinking about it. But it’s true of everyone we love. And that’s what makes each moment with them that much more special.
Does all this positive thinking mean I’m unrealistic and don’t grieve? Of course not. Everyday, my heart breaks in ways I never knew possible, usually when I least expect it. But happiness depends on the choices we make, how we react to the dark times. And I will always choose light over darkness. I may be unraveling now, but that just gives me a chance to tie stronger knots.
And that strength — one last gift from my parents — will stay with me, even after they’re gone.