On behalf of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month, Marilynn Garzione has appeared as a regular guest blogger. This is her last post. We thank her for sharing her thoughts, feelings, and vast personal experience with Alzheimer’s Disease. Marilynn Garzione teaches at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York and is the author of Released to the Angels: Discovering the Hidden Gifts of Alzheimer’s. Visit her on her website: www.releasedtotheangels.com.
When I first entered into Alzheimer’s with my husband, Patrick, I approached this disease with a determination to adjust. I would do whatever it took in order to help him. Yes, I knew that he would change—change was inevitable—but I was convinced that I would remain constant, relying on the past to help me face the present.
In the beginning I witnessed everyday losses, sharing in his embarrassment at not being able to remember a friend’s name, of witnessing his feeble attempts to cover up mistakes.
It is only now that I look back to these beginning stages to see that I, too, was changing.
Through trial and error I learned the first hard lesson of every caregiver: letting go of what was. If I permitted myself to remember what life was like before, I felt the sharp pain of knowing with certainty that it would never be that way again. And so I chose not to remember.
As the disease progressed, the losses became greater. While Patrick still struggled to maintain a social presence, he retreated from initiating conversation. I began to help him compensate for what he no longer could do. If he faltered in conversation I was there to fill in the gaps. When he no longer could keep up with outings, shopping, and everyday activities, I adjusted our schedule.
I slowly began to realize that even though I was trying to compensate for his losses, he was losing more. It was now that I learned the second lesson of Alzheimer’s: letting go of what you can’t control. Alzheimer’s is going to destroy whether you compensate or not. It, not you, is in control.
And then, as we settled into advanced stages, I found myself letting go of all pretense and looking within this disease to claim what remained. As I did, I began to focus on what was still there, rather than mourn what wasn’t. And as my perspective changed, so, too, did my attitude. I began to enjoy the time remaining, to join him in his world, and to re-discover through his eyes the wonderment of his surroundings. I found worth in enjoying and sharing what was in front of us rather than give in to the fear of what was ahead of us.
When, in the course of time, Alzheimer’s claimed all that it could, I was shown its hardest lesson: letting go completely of your loved one. I had finally accepted that it had won. But in the process, I had come to understand more fully the value of living life for the good moments it offers, and the strengths that it brings.
-Jaime Venditti, 11/30/12