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? 

truth matters

road sign for the town of Truth or Consequences, NM
© Alamy-Jonathan Larsen

Henry Cloud, in his book, Integrity, writes that many people lie… actually most of us do, in some form or another.

How about the little “white” lie answer to, “How are you doing?” Do I say “fine” when I’m not really fine? Or if someone asks me, “So… how did I do?”, do I give them honest feedback or do I respond with a generic, “Great”? What about when someone wants me to “fudge” on a recommendation letter, or a stats report, or a financial designation? Do I “help them out, or do I tell the truth?

Cloud states, “People of good character are people who can be trusted to tell the truth.”

  • Truth about myself – I’ve heard many times to consider reality as my friend. It doesn’t help to hide, avoid or deny reality – especially about myself. One powerful element of leadership is self-awareness, understanding my strengths and weaknesses. If I don’t contend with my weak areas, others will. I don’t want to be the fool who’s not really fooling anyone except myself. Although it is not easy for me, I am learning to seek out truth – ask others (husband, co-workers, boss, friends) for an evaluation, request feedback about my leadership, apply what they tell me, and seek help where I am weak.

      Will I pursue the truth?

  • Truth about others – I’ve written before about my desire to please others and be the “nice guy“. It is hard to tell people the truth when it may hurt them, but there is a big difference between a surgeon who causes pain while saving a life and a murderer who causes pain when taking a life. The pain itself is not bad – intent is what matters. I am learning that I sometimes have to tell someone a painful truth in order to help them mature, change, or make a wise decision. If I use tact, care, empathy, and respect when I speak, the truth pill is easier to swallow. The temporary pain is for their good; if I withhold the truth because of my fear of rejection or negative reaction, I have put my comfort ahead of their well-being.

      Do I care enough to tell the truth?

  • Truth about my world – In our ministry, we used to do an honest evaluation of our progress every school quarter. We would look at the stats numbers and consider the brutal-truth information they provided. We would celebrate where we were doing well, and we would prayerfully adjust our plans and activities wherever we were missing the mark. Cloud calls this assimilation and accommodation.

The world is changing at breakneck speed. If I am not willing to let go of the “way we’ve always done it”, or if I mislead investors with a sugar-coated story that conceals the real numbers, or if I intentionally tell my teammates only a partial truth about my actions, I – and the organization – will never be able to grow to meet the demands of our reality. No growth = death.

      Am I willing to respond to the truth?

___________

Do you struggle with telling the truth?

What helps you remember that the truth matters?