life lessons learned from dementia

sunsetHard experiences often teach the best lessons. Helping care for my elderly dad triggers childhood memories and reactions, fears for the future, and all the worst of me at times. The positive result is time to reflect and apply what I learn to other areas of my life. I have a lot to learn(!), so here are my first three lessons from my recent visit:

Even when I can’t “fix” it, I can still serve.

I would like nothing better than to cure my dad’s Parkinson’s and dementia, but I can’t. Medications, therapy, visits, prayers – other than a miracle – will not “fix” my dad. However, I can serve him. True service is determined by the one being served. He needs simplification in language and task, and continual and creative adjustments as his abilities change. He also needs my patience when he would prefer to do something (slowly!) himself and my respect even when he is confused or forgetful. Those last two are much harder for me.

Besides my dad’s illness, there are many things I’d like to change in this world: peace in place of violence, an end to inequities and inequalities, reconciled injustices, healing for hurts, desperation to encounter hope. I can’t fix those things either… but I can serve. I can go where I am called, give my best in all I do, and think of others rather than myself first – one day at a time. I can consider what will best assist others rather than what I want to do or what is easiest for me to offer.

I don’t have to be right.

I learned quickly that I cannot win an argument with a dementia sufferer. To the person with dementia, his perception is the only thing that is true. My dad’s delusions, paranoia, and denial are his reality. I cannot reason, argue, convince, or win him over to my perspective. I can only help him with what he believes.

That is often true with other people also. Even if we see the same scenario play out in front of us, our individual personalities, backgrounds, and values give us different perspectives of that incident. I can discuss, persuade, or pressure for hours, but I will never be the one who is right. I am learning – slowly – that I don’t always need to be right. My truth is often not the one truth in a situation. I can only help people if I care about and work with what they believe.

Attitude is powerful.

You would think I would know this one by now. I cannot change my father’s attitude, but I can change mine. I can look at his disease as a glass half empty and focus on all he has lost and who he was, or I can view the glass as half full and concentrate on what we can still enjoy together – neighborhood walks, quiet rests on a park bench, joy at watching fat rabbits in the yard, a New Mexico sunset streaked across the sky. He can sense my attitude, and he reacts accordingly.

He is not the only one affected by my choice of attitude. My family, friends, and co-workers also react to my half-empty or half-full mood. My actions may be good, but my attitude has the most powerful influence on his response.

These are the three lessons I am working on this week. I will share others in the weeks ahead, but this is enough for me for now!

How about you… which of these three is hardest for you?

What have you learned about serving others, caring about what they believe, or choosing the right attitude? 

a 30-year celebration

fireworks digitalphoto KeeratiWhere did the time go? How did I get here? Am I really that old? Did I ever imagine when I was first starting out that I would arrive to this point? Has it been worth it?

This year I celebrate 30 years working with the organization known as cruI started out 30+ years ago with enthusiasm, belief, energy, a bit of trepidation and the support of family and friends. I stepped out of my comfort zone, moved to a new state (and eventually new countries), and I took on challenges that I wasn’t sure I could actually accomplish.

I believed that I could help change the world.

I learned a new language, developed my strengths, grew in weak areas, tried new experiences, tasted new flavors, and worked with some of the most incredible people in the world. Sometimes I made mistakes and poor decisions. I loved working with others, dreaming dreams, and creating something new.

I believed that – even with my weaknesses – I could make a difference.

I trusted strangers. I loved those who were lost; I helped others grow. I changed because they taught me new ways. I asked for forgiveness and forgave those who hurt me. I shared my time, my home, and my heart with many who became life-long friends. I said good-bye too many times.

I believed that people can change.

I laughed. I cried. I mourned. I celebrated.

30 years have gone by, but the adventure continues.

I still believe…

_______________

Are you following your dreams? What do you believe?