“The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That’s all there ever is.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
My mom started forgetting small things: misplacing her wallet, repeating herself, forgetting an appointment or a name.
It happens, we thought for a while; no big deal…
Until it became a big and undeniable deal.
A fog had made its way into her brain. An uninvited visitor stealing her logic and reason, bit by bit. It left her frustrated and confused. We knew it got serious when we found her in the kitchen in tears. Halfway through her famous apple pie recipe she didn’t know what to do next. Slowly, she was losing her grip on her once so familiar life.
It was painful to see my strong and organized mother turn into a helpless person right in front of my eyes. In the end, she needed help with the most mundane things, from showering and getting dressed to making sure she ate and drank. She looked like my mom, but she was no longer there.
Dementia is a cruel disease—for the person in question as well as for their loved ones. With me, many people have or will get to know it up close.
A few tough-to-swallow facts:
Within the United States, there are at least 5 million people currently living with age-related dementia, with 47.5 million people living with dementia worldwide. Every year, 7.7 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed. To put this in perspective, it’s estimated that 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 10 men living past the age of 55 will develop dementia.
While my mom was slowly fading into the fog, I struggled to come to terms with losing her. I found solace and peace in the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. Through his insights, dementia revealed itself to me as a teacher.
Even if you will never have to deal with it, its lessons are universal:
“Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is true prosperity.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
The progressive nature of dementia gives time to say goodbye to your loved one. Not everyone gets that opportunity, so take it.
Throughout my mom’s illness, I was given time to express my gratitude to the mother figure she had been throughout my life and release it when she was no longer able to fulfill that role. When her final days came, I felt ready to be fully present with her as she was. That made a huge difference in my grieving process. Now, a year later, I express my gratitude and appreciation more freely. I am thankful for being healthy in body and mind, for my loved ones, and for the time I am given.
“Forgiveness happens naturally as soon as you realize that the past cannot prevail against the power of presence.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
People with dementia no longer have a clear past. They show you that there is no point in looking back or holding resentment. It’s over. Let it go. When you drop the past and step into the present, look at what is left.
For years, I had struggled with certain actions and decisions my mother had made in the past. With the disease taking over her mind, those grudges felt insignificant. All that was left was the woman who gave birth to me and raised me to the best of her ability. Now it was time for me and my family to take care of her.
3. True Communication
“True communication is communion—the realization of oneness, which is love.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
The more the disease progresses, the more challenging the communication becomes.
Sitting with her, I often found myself at a loss for words. When someone is unable to process information or complex emotions, what is there to say? I started writing her postcards with increasingly simple messages: “I love you,” “I’m thinking about you,” “I’m proud of you.” Not being raised with “I love yous,” it took some time to get there. In the end, communicating the only things that matter truly made me feel nothing was left unsaid.
4. Living in the Now
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you will ever have.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
The concept of time is hugely altered for someone with dementia. Although occasionally confusing, this can be also be incredibly liberating. Every visit kept me right there in the moment with my mom. There was nowhere else more important to be. When you fully embrace the present, there is no room for worry, anxiety, or fear.
This clarity opened my eyes to my priorities in life. I have changed my career path and spend more time doing what I truly love. I am moving past insecurities and limiting beliefs of who I am, as I am shedding all unnecessary drama and bullsh*t. There is simply no time for that. Life is happening right now.
“Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in the world” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Accepting that your loved one is slipping away from you is a phenomenal challenge. Give yourself grace through the tough times.
The tears I have shed showed and still show me how much closer I am to what is meaningful in my life. For me, all four of these lessons together have brought me through the grieving process toward acceptance.
Gratitude, forgiveness, true communication, and living in the now all show me what is left when I rid myself of mental noise and come to stillness. In that stillness lies the answer:
What matters most in life is love.