We all have days when life is hard. These can be normal ordinary days when we have simply too much or too many: too much laundry, too many children vomiting, too many emails to return. I might have too much weight to lose or too many friends to please. It can get more serious than this when I have too much grief to bear to or too many lonely nights to face. But in all cases big and small, too much is just…well…it’s just too much! And too many is the same — too many.
On this Alzheimer’s journey, I have my days where it all feels too much, when life is hard. Lately I’ve noticed Mom is wearing the same clothes every day, rarely changing them unless she is prompted. Showers on her own initiative are fewer and farther between. And just a few weeks past, for the first time EVER, she forgot my name. Her forgetting only lasted about five minutes. But it was the longest five minutes of this journey thus far. I hate this so much. The ambiguous grief feels too much.
Is there something that feels too much for you? I think we need to give ourselves permission and admit that life can sometimes just really be hard!
Stop and notice I am not saying BUT. I am saying AND.
And, according to my mother, when something is hard I don’t always have to “take it like that.” In other words, sometimes I make it harder than it needs to be at the moment. In the following conversation, my mother taught me that it is sometimes VERY APPROPRIATE to not take life so hard when life is hard. She didn’t know it at the time and neither did I, but in this dialogue, she tells me how to live well during these days/years of Alzheimer’s. Read this endearing post written by my mother over a year ago, transcribed by me.
March 2013 – When Life is Hard
She picked up a black and white photo of herself, one in which she is standing elegantly at a Union Carbide cocktail party in 1953.
Mom: Those were learning days.
Me: What do you mean by that?
Mom: How to act in society. How to act with your husband. What I’m saying is that learning days are when life is hard and you are trying to learn how to act in something that doesn’t really fit you quite yet. It usually has something to do with your husband’s work. Those Union Carbide cocktail parties were something else. You had to put up.
Me: Put up? What do you mean?
Mom: I was going to say, put up a good front, whatever you want to call it. Look how young I am in this picture. I probably haven’t even had a baby yet. I don’t know. That’s a long time ago. I don’t even remember painting my nails back then. Look how skinny I am. I remember feeling pressure that I had to act a certain way. Women had to do that for their men. Oh those men.
Me: Tell me about men.
Mom: Talk about men? Hmmm. Talk about men. Men are men. [She snickers] I don’t know about men. Some are good and some are bad. But boy this time in my life I was madly in love with your father. And you know [looking again at the photo], he was always complimentary to me when I got dressed up like that. He wasn’t good about giving compliments, but when I got dressed up to go to a Union Carbide party he always told me I was beautiful. He never told me that I had to put up a good front. He wasn’t like that; you know, making me put on the Ritz. Your dad definitely had some good traits. It wasn’t all bad.
Actually, he was probably a better person when he was younger than when he was older. I used to always wonder if he cheated on me when he was out of town. I wish I could say that your Dad would never do that. It wouldn’t really surprise me if he did because he was gone a lot. It wasn’t like he didn’t have it in him. Well, he probably did cheat. I’d like to think I’m wrong.
Me: Do most men struggle with that? [I ask this because there is a message in our culture that says “all men struggle with that.” I don’t agree with this AT ALL. So I was curious if Mom would.]
Mom: It’s tempting probably. I don’t know if all men struggle with it. Like your husband Dale for instance. He isn’t the type who would do anything like that. Whereas I think, your Dad, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. At the time, I don’t think I thought that. But now I do. I think he cheated on me. That’s a terrible thing to say.
Me: How does that make you feel?
Mom: Right now there is no feeling. At the time I never gave it a thought. Now I can look back and think, “I wonder.” [She drew out the word w-uuuun-derrrrr, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head as she let the word linger. Then she laughed.]
[I’m trying to figure out what about this is funny. Does my mother laugh at everything?]
Me: It doesn’t make you sad?
Mom: No. Now, what would there be to feel sad about? On one hand, he wasn’t the kind of man that noticed pretty women. He was kind of blasé about it. At least when I was with him he never commented on a beautiful woman. I don’t ever remember him taking a second look at a beautiful woman.
I like men in general. I always have. I’m not a man hater and never will be. That’s not to say there’s some men I can’t stand. Some are jerks. But some women are jerks. It’s not a man or woman thing. But, I always had a respect for your Dad and I respected his position. Generally, he tried hard to take care of me and you kids.
Me: What do you miss about Dad or Nord, about having a companion? [Nord was her second husband.]
Mom: Right now not anything. Not one damn thing. Well, other than…well,…[she got a sly look on her face], I shouldn’t put that out there. Let me just say that it would be nice to have somebody to do things with. Like Nord was a good dancer. We really cut the rug. Or go to a movie and discuss it, though neither Dad nor Nord liked to discuss a movie. They didn’t want to talk about life, they just wanted to tell me things. There’s a difference between talking and telling. So, I don’t miss having a man around. Does that make sense?
Me: No. Explain it to me.
Mom: I’m perfectly comfortable without a man. That’s all I’m trying to say. Think what it was like when I had a man. I was constantly spending time working when I had a man around. You know, you are cooking for him, cleaning up after him, trying to get along with him. Sometimes that can be an effort! Just dealing with him, having this other person to please or you know. Like if you lost Dale now, you would really miss him. You would miss having him around and picking up after him. Because he is so great, you would think, “Why did I complain about all that?” But for me, the men I knew were work. Does that make sense? I do not miss that at all.
Me: Is that why you always ask me, “Do you know how lucky you are?”
Mom: Oh Dale is such a cool guy. He is such a good man. You never hear him complain that much about other people. He is a good person. You know Laura [she pauses], well…sometimes I hear you become snippy to him and he doesn’t deserve it. I think, don’t treat him like that! I think of Nord and I think of your Dad, I don’t think of Dale like I think about them. You are very lucky. Do you know how lucky you are?
[Then, my mother started thinking about her mother.]
My mother, she would say about your Dad, “Jane, you shouldn’t get so mad at him. You are so lucky to have him.” Grrrr. That made me so mad. My mother would get on my case when I was distraught over your Dad being drunk. And she had been married to an alcoholic! He’d be gone for days, stuff like that. She just thought your Dad was the most wonderful person in the world because he worked hard and provided for us.
I would call your grandma when your Dad was having a bad day with alcohol. She wouldn’t have any sympathy for me. Your dad would say, “Call your mother!” He knew she would tell me how wonderful he was. And on many levels he was wonderful. She just thought I was the luckiest person in the world to be married to your Dad. She had no idea what I had to put up with.
Me: Tell me about Dad’s alcohol.
Mom: I never thought of him as an alcoholic. I don’t know. It never bothered me that he got drunk or anything. I used to think sometimes when he was drinking he was kind of hard on you kids though. I don’t know.
Me: His alcoholism was hard on us kids but it wasn’t hard on you?
Mom: No. Not really. I chose not to take it like that.
Me: You chose not to take it like that? What do you mean?
Mom: Well, when you are in the thick of it, why would it do any good to make it harder than it is? Yes, it was hard when your Dad drank too much, but I chose not to take it like that. I had to make the best of things.
Mom did stay with Dad for many years. He provided well for our family and yet he continued to struggle. The alcoholism did make life hard for Mom and for a long time she chose to not “take it like that.” This decision was her survival mechanism. Eventually though she did decide to “take it like that.” At the age of 56, with small change in her pocket, she left my Dad, moved to another state and into the basement of a friend.
My Dad’s alcoholism was hard on me and my mother (and my siblings). And now, it is the Alzheimer’s that makes life hard. And, for the most part, I need NOT “take it like that.” If all I did was focus on how hard it is, I think I would grow weary and lose hope. What situation might be causing you to grow weary and lose heart? Hebrews 12:3 encourages you and me to avoid that. So, I work hard to peer at the gifts and beauty and love. Join me in peering at beauty. Also, for me, that involves considering Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith.
I realize that some of you are living in next to impossible situations. I think of my friend S who has been living with a respiratory disease all her life. As I type, she sits across town from me in ICU fighting bravely to recover. She caught a virus, that for most of us, would be rather benign. But for her it is really serious. And yet, when I went to visit her and donned my mask, she showed me how she is creates beauty with food (from the hospital cafeteria) and with yarn from home.
Look at you S trying to not make a hard situation harder. Look at you S, finding beauty in the midst of hell. I love you for this. I really do. You teach me so much.
And….(notice AND, not BUT)….there will be days when I MUST give myself permission to lament. So must my friend S and her amazing husband D. To be honest, some days I am downright UGLY. And S, if you are reading this, I hope you will give yourself permission to be ugly. It has to be OK to admit how hard it is and to “take it like that.” Get out the kleenex box and let the snot flow! To have true joy (which is more of an attitude than a feeling), honest lament is necessary. And to have healthy lament, one must also embrace joy. In the Bible, I see that I am called to both the attitude of joy and the expression of honest lament. While it appears paradoxical, lament and joy are not opposites. I can’t wait to write more about this.
This portion of my website is my form of advocacy so that we can find a cure for Alzheimer’s. On some level, this website is also a form of advocacy so we can find a cure for despair and hopelessness. And on another level, this website is simply a place for all of us to nurture joy and hope in the midst of sorrow (no matter what our struggle).
I work full time AND I care for Mom. I also have a family to care for. These responsibilities can be REALLY hard. I will have days when I will “take it like that” and I will do so by putting my foot down, by advocating for those with the disease of Alzheimer’s and those who care for them. As long as we are able, Mom and I will both continue to write here. I hope she and I can keep it up. Please share the URL of my website with others will you? If you’d like to read more of my posts on Alzheimers, go here.
All this said there will be others days that I’d rather NOT “take it like that” and I will frolic happily in my garden and in my kitchen. I’m going to take my mother’s advice and write about these things and other various joys in life. Call it denial if you wish. I call it healthy compartmentalism. Even S is doing that in her hospital bed. If you like to read about gardening and cooking, go here and scroll down to find those posts. Or poke around the boxes on the top of my site.
Thanks for reading here! I just love that you are.
*Disclaimer: This post is not meant to communicate what to do in a situation where someone is being hard on you. But if someone is being hard on you, it may be wise to seek counsel. One day I will write about how I sought counsel so I could respond appropriately to my Dad’s alcoholism. But, one person’s story is rarely a prescription for another. It is simply a story told in the grander story of the biblical narrative to give testimony to a God who is only love.
I mention my friend Sarah above. Today, just 6 days after posting this article, my friend died suddenly. I hate death. It makes life so hard. So today I will “take it like that” and let myself grieve. And (yes AND…because Sarah would want me to say AND) I will also live with the HOPE that is IN Christ, knowing that this horrendous death of my dear friend is not the end of the story. The Lord grieves with me. And, He will create beauty in the midst of this evil. He will give good gifts to Sarah’s husband and four children. He will.
I love you truly Sarah. I do.