July 9, 2014

Ask Me Anything: Dying Man Seeks to Help Others. {Weekly Advice Column}


*Disclaimer: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal opinion, view or experience of the authors, and can not reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here. 


Dear Elephants,

Welcome to this week’s Ask Me Anything, where no subject is off limits. To submit a question for next week, please email me at [email protected] or private message me on Facebook. All queries will remain anonymous.

* Some questions have been slightly paraphrased to increase clarity. The content accurately reflects the original.

Dear Erica,

I am 53 and have recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Things aren’t too bad right now, but I want to live a meaningful and helpful life while coping with memory issues and to continue to do so, even when things get worse.

Where to start?

~ Diagnosed

Dear Diagnosed,

I’m so sorry you are going through this, and I deeply admire your attitude.

You don’t mention many details of your life, so it’s hard for me to know where your talents lie, but you are obviously strong, caring and compassionate.

You can begin to help others by recording your own feelings and the practical details of your journey daily. You can do this privately or in a more public forum like a blog—either way, trying to be as honest and vulnerable as possible.

As your illness progresses and your memory fades, your words will remain, and can be a beacon to those who travel the same road after you, as well as to the loved ones in your life.

You may also consider heading up a support group for people with early onset Alzheimer’s. Being a leader for your peers while you can might be incredibly rewarding, and will help establish connections you or your caregivers can call upon later.

For a some astute insight into this disease and its progression, I suggest reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

Dear Erica,

I had a dear friend recently pass away. He was my first love and my first boyfriend.

We dated over a year the first time around, but then we grew apart mostly because he got involved with drugs.

Despite this, we remained friends. During that time, I went through the loss of my brother and the end of an abusive relationship. After a few years my first boyfriend got clean and we dated again. Eight months later I had to move because of a family crisis. He understood, and let me go—he didn’t move with me because of his job.

Fast forward to six months ago. I’ve had a child with someone else, and ended that relationship due to abuse. Then my old boyfriend came back into my life, and we began working on a relationship again. There has always been something there, and I’ve always cared deeply for him.

Last week I received a phone call from his mother with the sad news that he passed away in his sleep. The autopsy didn’t show anything abnormal. Now I’m trying to cope with this loss, while not trying to seem down or depressed around my son. I’m still learning to cope with the loss of my brother, and now a friend that knew me better than anyone.

How should I deal with all this?

~ Grieving Girlfriend

Dear Grieving,

I am so sorry for all the loss you’ve had to endure.

Something that stands out in your letter aside from the obvious and painful deaths of your boyfriend and your brother, are the two relationships you’ve been involved in which were abusive. That, and the fact that you now have a son, for whom you wish to be strong.

At this point in what I assume is your relatively young life, you’ve been hit in all directions by tragic, confusing and momentous events. No one could sort through it all alone. Making a personal commitment to talk with a therapist for what will likely be a long stretch of time should be your next course of action.

You owe it yourself and your child to not only work through this grief (and you can work through it and get to a place where you feel lighter, though the pain will never entirely disappear), but also to try and unravel the mysteries around why you find yourself in abusive situations.

If finances are tight, this website offers lots of help.


Dear Erica,

I want to study Buddhism, but my Christian (not strict) upbringing seems to be a barrier.

How am I to accept that we all suffer and just let it go? I think I may have misunderstood the philosophy of Buddhism.

Something in me says to study Buddhism, is it possible to believe in God (not necessarily Christian)  and be a Buddhist?

I seem to hold onto my suffering, I have done a lot of work to let it go, but I still have a long ways to go.

Any advice would be great.

~ Aspiring Buddhist

Dear Aspiring,

You’re in luck! You don’t have to become Buddhist in order to study it. In fact, the Buddha himself would encourage copious study before buying into any philosophy—even his own.

Practically speaking, Buddhism is a non-theistic belief system, meaning no deities or Gods are worshiped, but this should in no way hinder your exploration of it. Proceed with the attitude that you are simply learning and see where it takes you.

It is always important to honor those quiet whispers we hear deep in our heart, and you shouldn’t ignore this one. As the saying goes “The paths are many, but the truth is one.” You never know which path might lead you to your truth.

To get you started, I recommend Thich Naht Hanh’s wonderful book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching.

Dear Erica,

I’ve been with my fiancee for 1.5 years now, he’s 39 and I’m 25. We share a lot of common passions; food, sustainability and giving back. We even started a plant based whole foods business together.

We’re the best of friends and love each other dearly, but we broke up recently because I couldn’t accept the fact that he can’t find independence from his family at 39.

He’s pure Chinese and still lives with his family, all of whom dislike me because I’m Eurasian and therefore culturally unfit. Also because, apparently, I’m not rich.

Their opinions aside, his ability to be on his own stems from respecting his parents and their tradition. Early on in the relationship he misled me into thinking he was independent, and it wasn’t until we got serious that I discovered he wasn’t.

He told me he really wants to keep his promise, but he can’t bear to break his parent’s heart. We’ve been trying to work it out, but I find it really hard accept—especially because I am so independent myself.

My mind wants me to move on, but my heart is insisting that I stay.

What should I do?

~ Mrs. Independent

Dear Independent,

Your finance is telling you loud and clear where his loyalties lie—and it isn’t with you. At 39 years old, regardless of his cultural affiliation, if he hasn’t broken free from his parent’s grip, he isn’t going to.

Ask yourself: do you really want to marry a man who puts you second, who can’t make clear and courageous decisions, and who values his families feelings and beliefs more than yours?

And, if ever children are to enter the picture, what would that mean for them? Would they also be scorned (as they would also be Eurasian and “culturally unfit”) by their extended family, and by default, their father?

You are young, life is short, and you have a vision for your future—which your fiancé is not going to help you manifest.

Frankly, I’d get while the getting’s good.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Mircea/Flickr, Wayfaring Sinh/Flickr

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