I Love You More

We didn’t always say “I love you” to each other, but in his latter years, when we did, with increasing frequency, dad would say, “I love you more.”

This remembrance came to me this week as surprisingly deep wells of grief have opened, hearing about the passing of another in the group of friends who boated together for decades. Seven months since my father passed.

Dad once said to me that in his family, growing up, these words were never spoken. I don’t know where or when he decided to say, “I love you more” but it would make me smile every single time he did.

Even without the words, I knew he loved me. He knew I loved him. He loved me as unconditionally as he knew how and this was not easy for him – a perfectionist who liked order and control.

I learned to love him in the same way – as unconditionally as I knew how. I have written that he was not the easiest person to be around at times. He could be grouchy. He had moments of feeling sorry for himself. He had his own moments of deep grief that I witnessed through listening. Just listening; witnessing. Holding space for him and his process. Not trying to make it better, explain it away, side with anyone. At times he focused more on who wasn’t coming around than who did come around. He yearned for the joy, happiness and fun of the past when everyone was younger and mortality seemed a long ways a way. A past that our family friend was part of.

From “the good old days”

Dad knew his mind. He knew what he wanted. I came to recognize his humour. How he lit up when he gently flirted with waitresses or other young women he came into contact with, as inappropriate as that may be in this day and age, and even though my mother was his one and only true love. How he used to tell everyone, “She’s not my girlfriend…. She’s my daughter.”

He cherished his independence even while at times he was lonely. In the last year or so of his life, his ability to get around became increasingly impaired. He had leg pains and he couldn’t breathe. He had difficulty getting up from a chair and walking up stairs. I always honoured his independence. I would adjust my pace of walking to his. I would carefully watch him as he struggled to go up a set of stairs or get out of his seat. I would not do for him what he wanted to do for himself, even when it was hard to watch.

Last summer, we were trying to get him qualified for home oxygen, paid for by the province. We went to the hospital for a test but his legs gave out before his oxygen could register at a qualifying level. We were told, when I asked, he could go back for a retest. It was his idea to do the stairs because they taxed him more than just walking. I will never forget the young technician’s ashen face as he emerged through the door of the stairwell with my panting father. If he wasn’t so young, I think having dad on the stairs may have given him a heart attack! It did the trick though. Dad qualified for home oxygen. Unfortunately, it was not the “cure” dad hoped it would be.

I miss him even as I feel his presence with me every day. He is often in my dreams. I “saw” his welcoming committee when he arrived on the other side. I “see” him welcoming the newly transitioned friends as the clans regroup. I feel the emptiness of what was and the fullness of what is. I allow my grief to leak through my eyes as I smile at the memory of, “I love you more.”

My Mortality is Calling to Me

My mortality is calling to me.

Another cherished member of the generation before me? Gone. Crossed through the portal, to the other side. Received by a welcoming committee. So many have gone this way in recent years.

Among them, my mother. My father. This friend. Number three, in 2020 alone.

The inevitably of time, passing. A line of elders crossing, from one world to the next. Leaving vacant, places of eldership.

The next generation? My generation? Reluctant. Reluctant to occupy these spaces. Not a mantle willingly or joyfully embraced. A mantle passed on by necessity. By the advancement of time. Cycles of life. And death. Venerable, honourable, vacant spaces.

My mortality is calling to me. With some astonishment, I realize, I am in my third third.

I can look ahead. I can look ahead and see. Clear to the end. Is it another decade? Two? Maybe three? If I’m lucky? Or if I’m not?

Who am I now? Who do I want to be? What is it that is mine to do in this third third?

Life is a current. It has pulled me along. It has shaped me. Shaped my journey. I see the nuances. Fluctuations. Tributaries. Of this current. Sometimes meandering. Sometimes radical passage. Eddies and rapids that have been wake up calls. And decision points.

A stream near my home, in the spring, when it was full and overflowing, bubbling along.

My mortality is calling to me. I am invited to examine this moment. To scan the future. To choose pathways. To invoke the whole of who I am. To step courageously into divine destiny. Burning with passion, for contributions, only I can make.

Potent. Powerful. Radiant. Joyful.

Looking back, I see departure points. A very different choice would have taken me to a very different place. To a very different me. In some ways.

Looking forward, from decision points right in front of me, very different pathways stretch into the future. I can see each through to the end. Different choices. Different versions of me.

My mortality is calling to me. What is the destiny I want to grab hold of? To live fully? Unapologetically? Meaningfully?

Of the paths before me, which will take me to the wildest, most coherent, most loving, version of who I can choose to be?

That. That is the path. The path that invites me. Into its embrace. Its adventure. That is the path I choose to shape. That I choose to let shape me. In my third third.

My mortality is calling to me.

Dementia and Alzheimers: A Fate Worse Than Death?

 

Despite the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the population and the increasing odds we will, at a minimum, come into contact, if not already in relationship, with someone who has this condition, many people are at a loss as to how to deal with, communicate or connect with someone who is losing their memories and, in the eyes of many, their very identity. It pains us to be in the same space when that person does not remember us. And this is exactly the problem – if you make it about your pain and not about the person who is still there, who still needs and yearns for friends, connection and companionship even if they no longer no how to express it, who still yearn for acceptance and love even if they do not have the words.

Why is it so difficult? How often do you hear, or even use, the phrase “I came face to face with my own mortality”? When someone close passes? When a certain age is reached? When you’ve had a close encounter with death – real or perceived? That’s hard enough, but what if you perceive dementia to be a fate worse than death? You see yourself in that person’s shoes and don’t like what you see or can imagine, don’t want to live that way, don’t think it is a life. And you become dumbfounded and wordless because you are no longer interacting with the person in front of you, you have closed in on yourself and are dealing with your own life journey and life fears.

My mother’s journey with dementia and in long-term care illuminated and tested some of my own fears and spiritual beliefs. Did I really believe the things I said I did? Did I really believe consciousness is not fixed but that it expands and travels? Did I really believe we are souls living a human existence? Did I really believe there is a fine line, just a veil really, between the physical and the non-physical? Or did I believe, as I often did, that the hallways I walked to visit my mother were the corridors of death and the dying? In Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I have included stories of the impact of my mother’s journey on me, as well as in many blog posts over the years.

My mother, in a time of her life when she could no longer string coherent sentences together – in fact, could no longer even find her words – showed me the way into depth of understanding. It is because of her that I began to think of two ways of experiencing stories – through the human tragedy lens or the soul journey lens. The human tragedy lens is one through which the physical journey here on earth does not make sense – because of things like dementia or other illnesses or any other range of possible things that pain us or cause us grief. The soul journey lens is the one through which peace can be found. It is expansive and offers a myriad of possibilities. It is the one that says I cannot measure my mother’s (or anyone else’s for that matter) experience by the lens of my own story.

What to do or say to the person who is living with dementia? It is simple really.

  1. Set aside your expectation. Do not expect them to be the spouse, parent, sibling, friend that you remember and maybe even romanticize. They are not that person now. But they are sill a person. Meet them in their humanity – the humanity you see when you look in their eyes (yes, look into their eyes!)and  see into the soul.
  2. Don’t let your own discomfort get in the way – or, in other words, get out of your own way..
  3. Set aside your own fear and your story of their situation.
  4. Greet them warmly – the way you used to – like the friend or loved one that they are. Because that is the essence of who they still are. They will be relieved.
  5. Don’t let it matter that they don’t remember who you are and don’t ask them if they do. In fact, don’t ask them any question they won’t be able to answer.
  6. Answer the same question 100 times in 10 minutes as if it was the first time it was asked, without exasperation, frustration or sadness.
  7. Tell them what’s up in your life without feeling guilty that you still have one when you perceive that either they don’t or you understand how much narrower their life is now than it used to be.
  8. Remember humour. We all like a good laugh. And it is okay to laugh with them.
  9. Stay tuned to where they are – it can change from day to day and it can change rapidly in the progression of the disease. Meet them where they are.
  10. Bring love. Lots and lots of love.

I am deeply touched by this video by Mary Beth Beamer of husband Alan and their appeal for friends to keep visiting. I appreciate the #Stillhere campaign by the Alzheimer’s Society. One of the things I deeply appreciated about the staff at Harbourview Haven where my mother stayed was that up to the very end they treated her with tenderness and care and like the whole person she still was even if her cognitive ability was pretty much gone because she was #StillHere.

Who do you know that has dementia or Alzheimer’s? When was the last time you visited with them? Go now. Or soon and remember the advice in this little gem too.

Alzheimers-Dementia-Communication Advice