My friend E. suffers from Alzheimer’s.
I’ve been debating about writing about it for weeks, which in itself says a lot about the stigma that comes with this type of situation.
There is a lot that doesn’t get said, a lot that doesn’t get to be expressed and not just because the person with the disease can’t find the words anymore. That’s my experience and that’s all I am attempting to write about today. This is my perspective on what is happening and how, in spite of it, my friend never fails to touch my heart, to inspire me, to teach me something deeper than I could have expected and just leaves me breathless with the gift of the experience in light of such circumstances.
We knew something was wrong when she started repeating the same old, very old stories of her childhood and life journey. Why her brain would go down that path over and over was puzzling at first, then serious cause for concern, then seriously annoying. I know, it sounds awful and believe me, it came with a serious dose of guilt as well.
She’s been a friend for many years and a very dear friend at that. She’s one of my mentors, not so much by virtue of what she’s taught me out loud, although she has done that too in some fashion, but much more in how she shows up in life – heart first and foremost. So because of that, I look for the gift in those stories. I wonder why she would choose these ones and not others. I thought maybe it said something about her, about what mattered to her, but as she once told me when I finally had the courage to ask if she had any idea the sheer amount of times she had told us those stories, maybe there was something in it for the ones listening over and over as well. To this day, which is why I will be given a chance to hear them again :), I have not found the answer to that. Somehow, I’m sure I will, once I get over whatever layer/filter is blocking my view.
She realized something wasn’t quite right when she couldn’t find the right words to express herself. When she was ready to talk about it, she called it “losing it a little bit” which was heartbreaking to hear.
As we grow from babies dependent on our mothers, gaining independence and empowerment day after day for most of our lives, it feels so strange to say the least to be losing what was gained, to feel like the river is flowing the other way now. Society and how most of us are taught to face it (or not) the cycle of life and death and the variety of forms it takes, in my part of the world, doesn’t prepare us to be at peace with the change in the current.
She has an amazing tendency to be grateful, cheerful, to look for the fun in most situations and to “drop into her heart” and look at the landscape and its inhabitants from there. This is how she overcomes language barriers, mood barriers – I’ve seen her shift people’s moods and demeanour in seconds with a genuine heartfelt smile on her face – and how she still manages to make me see light when skies are grey.
An example would be last night as we were on our weekly outing for coffee and conversation. Two young women walked toward us and wanted to ask us questions in regards to politics in this city or the country and were super nice about it. I tried to remain polite but honestly, felt protective of my friend and our time together, so I did mention at some point that they were interrupting our conversation. Once I realized it was about politics, I quickly shut the door to a possible exchange by saying we knew nothing about it nor were we interested in it. But my friend, always wanting to speak from the heart, turned to them and genuinely thanked them anyway for coming over and asking us to be part of their survey. She was glad for the small interaction, glad to see people, happy to be seen and heard and considered a contributing member of society. These days such things mean a lot to her. I immediately felt ashamed for having answered on her behalf without asking, even though it came from a good place, but was it a productive place? Yes, my intention was loving, but I also robbed her of her power in that moment and that is what I am ashamed of. Her behaviour also reminded me that leading from an open heart instead of a protective stance feels so much better, whether you’re at the giving or receiving end of the exchange.
That’s one small example of the power of her heart.
I like to say that because of all the practice she’s had “dropping into her heart”, she’s better equipped than most to deal with her current circumstances. It brings her relief to hear that because she knows it to be true; she knows she can rely on that strength of hers. I am tempted to say “for now” but I truly don’t know what the future will bring and what form it will take. For now, I’m fine facing the present, embracing it even in all its uncertainty of the bridges that are still in her brain. I realize now more than ever that now is all we have and that what I can rely on is my intention to make those moments count, and our friendship, our bond, our love and our trust in each other that gives me the courage to go toward the unknown with her. What I get out of it on top of this precious, precious friendship is a chance to really touch the authenticity of vulnerability.