If you’re on an Alzheimer’s journey with someone, you’ll have lots of questions and you won’t always like the answers. They might make you angry. You might say, “Nope. No way.” The answers might depress you. This journey takes you through emotions. Getting to acceptance isn’t always peaceful, but one you embrace it, you’ll find peace, even as others ask difficult, annoying, or infuriating questions.
—Where does the journey begin?
—Depends. Which one?
—The Alzheimer’s journey.
—Whose? Mom’s or mine?
In the middle of the storm, no one in it frets over where the first cloud collected, where the pocket of air was warm and moist enough to rise into storm. In it, we focus on staying safe.
Maybe we debated the beginning in the beginning, but after the waters irrefutably carried us downstream, “Where did it start?” became irrelevant. We didn’t care.
Swim, dammit, swim!
In case your question isn’t rhetorical or polite, for mom the journey began decades ago, when she watched her mother-in-law and then her own mom be pulled under by the dark waters of the Alzheimer’s river. She kept her eye on the river and the skies, she talked about it, and for several years, she told us, “I think it’s beginning.”
We didn’t listen. The skies were blue, the river calm. We didn’t join her on the journey until 2017 when she received her medical diagnosis.
Once we were nostril deep in it, the importance of the medical diagnosis faded, and newsflashes about new miracle cures in development were heartbreaking. It was too late. No one could do anything for mom.
We didn’t have the power to turn the ship around and go back to Minnesota, we couldn’t even kick our way back to 2010 (or was it 2008), when mom said, “It’s coming.” None of it mattered anymore. We just looked for breaks along the bank, moments that weren’t drenched in river and despair.
Same Ocean, Different Journeys
My journey was not the same as mom’s, not the same as dad’s, not the same as those experienced by other family and friends who became part, or at least spectators, of the journey. We stepped in at different places, but we all went through the stages of grief.
- Denial: No, mom, it’s not coming yet, stop talking like that.
- Anger: Mostly bottled up in our family because we don’t have healthy anger skills.
- Bargaining: Take these pills, keep doing puzzles, stimulate, stimulate. We even hooked mom’s head up to a little electrical impulse machine.
- Depression: So much of this.
- Acceptance: Arguably the hardest because it feels like giving up.
The Peace of Acceptance
Acceptance is not giving up. Acceptance brings peace, gives you mental, emotional, and physical space to be present, to help, to sit and keep company, to share the journey. With acceptance, you stop trying to slay the dragon you can’t slay, you stop trying to outrun the bull and turn the ship. You save your energy for the things you can do.
We’re all headed to the ocean. We start and end our own journeys at different times. As I approach the delta of my journey, I hope that someone who has embraced my inevitabilities will step in to share the last lonely part with me, give me love and space as I face it. I couldn’t save mom, but I hope I did this much for her.
If you’re on an Alzheimer’s journey with someone, like it or not, the journey is shared and hard on everyone. The waters wick into all of our lives.
Find ways to be calm and kind. Show up for each other as the river carries someone’s world to the ocean.
©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.