Weeds, Wrinkles and Alzheimer's Disease

Updated: Apr 30

What to do about them


A ninety year old woman seated, with her daughter standing beside her, embracing her.
My mother. She is ninety, has blue eyes, a sense of humour, a caring heart, and Alzheimer's Disease.

It’s easy to think that what happens shouldn’t.


It can be hard to accept what happens. But there is something even harder than accepting what happens, and that is not accepting what happens. Not accepting something doesn’t make it shrink or go away. It makes it grow bigger. It becomes more overwhelming and insurmountable.


WEEDS


Wishing weeds didn’t exist is a waste of time. The only sensible thing to do is to pull them out as soon as possible. The longer I put off accepting their presence between the lettuce seedlings, the bigger they grow and the harder they are to remove.


WRINKLES


Despairing when I sight another wrinkle in the morning mirror grooving its way around my neck won’t stop its progress. I don’t have the finances or inclination for plastic surgery, so they’re not going to lessen or disappear over time. By Christmas I’ll have even more. And the more I panic or protest, the more wrinkles I’ll get. Accepting them softens my eyes, and in a way that no scientist can measure, my body senses my oneness with it and wishes me well.


ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE


But what are the benefits of accepting Alzheimer’s Disease?


My mother is ninety years old and has Alzheimer’s. She lives in a lovely residential home for older people where she is cared for by committed staff. I visit her every time I make the 450 km trip to Perth, about eight times a year. Every time we meet up, I notice an increased level of confusion. She remembers who I am when I tell her, sometimes thinks I’m married to my husband’s twin brother, and wonders why I’m going home to Albany even though I’ve lived there for 27 years. But her eyes are still blue, she finds ways to care for those she lives with and has retained her sense of humour.


It would be nice to have Mum still living in her own home and able to brew a pot of tea and offer me a homemade iced coconut biscuit whenever I popped in. I’d like to take her to visit her eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, so they can learn from her old-fashioned, down-to-earth advice, like: You made your bed and must lie in it. To have her able to sit in the place of honour at family events would be lovely.


But that’s not what’s happening. If I get angry about this and waste emotional energy wishing things were different, the situation will only get worse. So I’m accepting it and looking for its positives.


THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS


Eckhart Tolle wrote in A New Earth:


Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.

This could be regarded as circular reasoning. But if I put that accusation aside, and just step into the spaciousness the words create, it reveals a different way to be with what is happening to my mother and me. I stop arguing with what life has laid at my doorstep and begin to work with it.


I don’t know how Mum’s Alzheimer’s experience is helping the evolution of her consciousness, but I’ll tell you how it’s helping me.


  • I find myself looking in her eyes more than I used to.


  • I touch and hug her more than I ever did, more than she would ever have allowed in the past.


  • I find simple things to talk about – trees, flowers, water, sky – and leave complicated thought patterns like politics and religion out of it.


  • Sometimes I sit with her without talking.


  • I laugh more in the hour or two with her than I have in the previous week.


  • If she says something that isn’t “right”, I always find it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t really care where I live or who I’m living with, or even what my name is. She just wants to sense, in other ways apart from her brain, that I’m okay, because at a deep level, she knows who I am.


It’s strange, but writing these points from my perspective has given me some answers about how Mum’s Alzheimer’s experience is helping the evolution of her consciousness too. In some ways, our experience of this disease has produced the same outcomes.


Mum has changed. She looks into my eyes more than she ever did. She wants to hold my hand although she was never one to initiate such contact before. Mum appreciates simple things like cupcakes and hugs instead of wishing she had a better house or higher heels. When she’s silent she’s content. She’s not thinking, like she did in the past, that silence is embarrassing. And she accepts me for who I am, not for what she’d hoped I’d be.


I wouldn’t have chosen for my mother to have Alzheimer’s Disease, but she has it, and we are both growing in consciousness through her experience.


In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chödrön wrote:


Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live,

a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.


When I’m with my mother she helps me appreciate the preciousness of each day.


We’re now connecting at a deeper, more meaningful level - where joy dwells.


With love, Marlane




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