This past year has been a rough one. It was about a year ago this time that my brother, sister and I began to share our thoughts, feelings, and observations about our mother. Her behavior, in particular, her memory lapses just didn’t seem… normal. It took us a while to work up the courage to open up the gates and speak to both of our parents about it, but once we did, it has been something of a whirlwind ever since.
My mother, whom I realized noticed that something was off way before any of us did, has been very proactive once we reaffirmed (her doctor shrugged it off 2 years prior) what she probably had already suspected. She has been very good about going to doctors, taking cognitive tests, and speaking about herself to various doctors that make up her team. However, in the end, she was diagnosed with what we all feared most and already knew deep within us, early onset of Alzheimer’s.
That is a tough pill to swallow. There is medication, and she does take it, but there is no cure. What has been lost will never return. All we can do is hope that her road is an ever-so-shallow slope down.
I feel very helpless living so far away from my parents. I also feel that even if I were closer, I would still feel that pang of helplessness. One characteristic that blossomed since Dale’s death, was that of control. I don’t have the desire to control people, but situations. Yes, there are proactive things that my mother can do to help slow down the pace of this disease. But it is there and will always be. So I have turned the need to control on myself. Since Alzheimer’s does run in my family, I have almost convinced myself that it will be me who gets it (not that I want it to be my brother or sister). And in this past year, my mind has felt like a hot mess. From messing up concert dates to just mind racing thoughts… I’ve had a tough year mentally.
To add to that, my son has been having a tough time in school lately. He is in second grade and has always been a wonderful and praised student. This year, he is having difficulties dealing with conflicts with friends (apparently there’s a lot of drama in 2nd grade!) and has had an awfully negative attitude about just everything. As a teacher, I am fully aware that these moments can pop up and can be a completely natural (and equally exhausting) phase that (some) kids just go through. But as a mom, as a mom who lost her husband to his mental demise, I cannot help but to completely freak out. I am sure that my paranoia doesn’t help and that he can probably pick up on my angst.
While talking to my sister about my concerns about my son, she suggested that I look into mindfulness as a way to help him. Not knowing much of what it was about, I of course Googled it and was intrigued. I have always been captivated by the brain and 15 years ago looked everywhere for a brain-based master’s program, but none existed. What I realized after searching more and more into this topic was that I needed it. Yes, I could use it to help my son, but I really needed it.
This is not to imply that I feel that I am more important that my son. But I am a firm believer that if a parent does not take care of him or her self, they will not be able to parent to the best of their capabilities. My mind had been so consumed with thoughts about my mother’s illness which led to me wrapping them around things that haven’t happened like half convincing myself that I have Alzheimer’s and my son has depression. When I take a step back and take a breath, I know that neither is true. Perhaps one day they will be, but until then… I need to find and live in the present again. I need that more than ever now, since my mother’s diagnosis is true.
Again? I had never lived more authentically in the moment than in the days, months, and even couple of years after Dale’s death (which will have been 6 years in less than 20 days). In the beginning, it was a coping mechanism. Looking into the present was so uncertain and painful. Looking back into the past was so confusing and painful. The moment was all I had. I had that and my nearly 2 year old son who lived in each moment and took it all in as if it was his first… and in most cases, it was his first time. I lived that way with him for about 2 years. Despite the circumstances, those 2 years were also the most beautiful, inspiring, and introspective of my life. I
grew blossomed as a mother and a person.
I don’t know what it was… time, effort, distractions… but that feeling of truly living in the moment began to fade. I knew it then, I could feel it. But things were so good and happy in my life. I had so much to look forward to and that helped to make the past more bearable. But, I lost that inner strength of letting the distractions come and go and holding on to the moments.
I know the beauty of being able to truly live in the moment and I hope that mindfulness is going to help me find my way back to it.
I have enrolled in an 8 week course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. The class is led by a women who met with and meditated with Jon Kabat-Zinn (the “father” of mindfulness) before he even made mindfulness “a thing.”
To be honest, I have never meditated before. I have taken Yoga and have “tried” to meditate for a few short minutes during class, but I never achieved a mediation status. I know that there are apps like Headspace, that I heard are pretty good. But I want to learn more about this. I don’t want to just do it.
I had my first class this past Monday. There are 10 other people taking it besides myself and I have to admit that I felt some kind of connection with them all just for the fact that we have all chosen to come to this class. Each of us have our own stories, which we shared, of why we were there and the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter who you are… rich, poor, skinny, ugly, purple, gay… life can throw a wicked curve ball at any one of us. The important thing is to stay in the game. Even if you strike out… practice, learn, get better, and step back up to the plate. That’s what everyone in my class is doing, including myself.
And I can’t wait to knock that ball out of the field!