2024.10 : Learning To Swim

Circa 2024

Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

— John Steinbeck (East of Eden)

A dear friend recently confronted the impending increase in her caregiving responsibilities as her loved one started exhibiting potential signs of dementia. She confided in me her apprehension regarding the emergence of an unwelcome emotion on her emotional horizon: anger. Recognizing that a text message wouldn’t suffice for a thoughtful response, I assured her that I would craft this week’s essay with the intention that she might find it beneficial.

I have thought long and hard about how I can support you, my friend. I can provide no hopium, only copium, as dementia terrors are bespoke hell-scapes. One common characteristic is its inherent cruelty.

This cruelty knows no bounds, giving rise to anger in both the sufferer and the caregiver.

Merely words on a screen until experienced. The outward manifestations of dementia belie the internal emotional tumult. Accompanied by a wake of large waves of emotions, particularly overwhelming for daughters and sons. Viewing caregiving as a job, albeit one most would rather not have, can be approached like any other necessary job: show up, do the work to the best of one’s abilities, and strive to make your colleagues happy to be in it with you.

We’re like flight attendants on a doomed flight. This plane is speeding to the site of the crash. As the principal caregiver, you are the head flight attendant, tasked with keeping everyone calm and distracted with sing-alongs, passing out peanuts, and ensuring the booze doesn’t run out until moments before impact.

That flight attendant has a crucial, honorable, role. Unlike that flight attendant, you will survive, although you’ll never be quite the same. That flight attendant has a mantra they repeat over and over in their head to maintain composure. You’ll need one too. Here’s where I might be of assistance. Keep it in your back pocket. Use it as needed.

I am not angry. I am sad.

Anger only leads to more pain for everyone involved. The person suffering from dementia reflects and amplifies the caregiver’s emotions. And doesn’t all this sorrow also get mirrored? Yes, it does. That sharp pain in your heart is dementia twisting the blade.

I am not angry. I am sad.
I am not angry. I am sad.

There will be a deluge of sadness, enough to fill a lake. There’s no avoiding this lake of sorrow. You must wade in, start swimming. One must learn to swim in sadness; it’s the only way to reach the other side. Anger will only drag you under.

I am not angry. I am sad.
I am not angry. I am sad.
I am not angry. I am sad.

I hope this offers some solace. Reach out anytime.

And now… know the photograph.

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