My mom has Alzheimer’s and I’m writing about it in order to lessen the shame and stigma of mental illness. The neurologist confirmed it on Christmas Eve: G30.1, F02.81. Those are the officially designated numbers in medicalese, the conceptual boxes that conventional reality places her in.
That I am not devastated is largely due to my Buddhist practice which has taught me to practice avoiding confinement in conceptual boxes. Of course, such an attitude cannot be merely feigned with the imagination or bold prose. In order to effectively avoid the frightening abysses of the world – with its aging, sickness, death, wars, disease, and heart-break aplenty, there is only one sure method that I have found, and it does not come in pill form. Neither can it be rolled into a joint, though in many circumstances, the latter offers more relief than the form. In the end though, it is only acceptance imbued with wise understanding which heals all worldly illness, and this cannot be bought or sold, only practiced. Dharma.
Four years ago, while performing acupuncture for several patients in a nursing home, I observed first hand the heavy emotional toll on families that advanced elderly care often takes. Being the oldest mentally competent individual of three siblings, I had a premonition that in a few years, I would be in the epicenter of my own poignant family drama, so I decided to get ahead of the curve. At age 53, with my wife and 9 year old daughter, I moved back in with my parents.
Mothers are the source of everything. They are very literally, the creators of life, the nurturers, the compassionate center of the family universe. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. Mothers are human too. But setting aside the emotional baggage we may carry from our early childhood, it is undeniable that without the presence and participation of our mothers in the earliest phase of life, none of us would be here today.
Great happiness and virtue is to be gained by caring for one’s parents at the end of life. This is not what American materialistic consumer culture teaches us – our hobbies, our nuclear family, our career, our kids – these should be our main focus, or so we are often led to believe.
My mom’s aimless wandering through our house, wondering how to get home, are almost daily now. Thank goodness we are there for her, reminding her again and again, in calm tones, that she is home, that she doesn’t need to perform any tasks or prove her usefulness. The only real task remaining is to practicing accepting the present moment, whatever it brings, and as difficult as that is for someone with a progressive and degenerative condition of the brain, it is certainly easier with love and patience and the felt presence of family, even when the brain doesn’t always recognize who people are.
That’s where we come in….and the chihuahua. Technically she’s not ours yet, though she has already won our hearts. She was a stray, found wandering near the Yakima Reservation. At present she is living at a foster home for rescue animals, weaning her pups who are also up for adoption. I think Karuna (the name we’ve given to our future family member), will be good friends with my mom. So much love needed in this world. When we give the gift of love all blessings flow. Blessings of peace and happiness in the new year to all.
Resources for Pet Adoption