A senior female and adult male are painting landscapes on easels and sitting in a grassy valley

Reach Across the Valley to Where They Are Now

There are times when I've gotten lost in heartbreak. You know the heartbreak to which I'm referring, the long goodbye, mourning those memories we've lost, and grieving the moments you won't have with the loved one you knew before.

It is a lot to comprehend and deal with; it's easy to get caught up in it, especially when you're in it.

Forget your shoulds

Your loved one should be here, fully and presently himself. She should be actively participating in this major family event. He should have been able to congratulate you on that achievement.

The shoulds are hard, they are frustrating, and they lead, at least for me, to boisterous outbursts at unsuspecting victims. That's why I say, forget 'em. (Admittedly, most times "forget" is replaced by a cruder f word.)

Your shoulds serve no purpose in your life outside of strife and hardship, so erase them. Forget should was ever a word within your vocabulary. The reality of life is that there is no should; there is only what is.

For some of us, what is, right now, is a loved one who is fighting through dementia and a family that is on that Alzheimer's journey with them.

Make space for what is

As you let go of the idea of what life should have been and how it should have unfolded, you make space for what is.

Today, if you're among the lucky ones, your loved one is with you. He may be highly agitated, and she may be playing with a baby doll to keep her calm, but they are here. There's still time to love them as they are, the imperfect, disease-ridden version of themselves.

I'm about 5 years beyond my grandfather's passing after his 15-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. That time has given me the space to look more into the research end of things, lend our story to the community to raise funds and awareness, and take in some of the art of Alzheimer's.

Capturing the Alzheimer's experience through creation

It's a natural human expression to create, and for those artists who have lived through Alzheimer's, depicting it is a way they work through the hard feelings. I've had the privilege of interviewing a few of them for this site and others. The common theme in each interview was the feeling of gratitude for making something with their loved ones. They seem to have developed a connection with their loved ones different from those that existed before the disease.

I've been startled at each interview by the ability to sit in the reality of the situation and find these moments of sheer bliss.

Ain't no mountain high enough

The lead-up to my cousin Tommy's wedding was hard. There was taking Gram shopping for an outfit, purchasing presents from myself and my grandparents, and ensuring they had the means to get to the location via another family member.

We wondered whether Pop would be amenable to the situation. We worried about what might waylay them along the way. But what occurred was nothing short of beautiful.

My Gram and Pop slow dancing together, the ghosts of their younger selves showing through. And then there was Marvin Gaye's Ain't No Mountain High Enough, where Poppop was encircled by his granddaughters and great-granddaughters, loving all the attention, moving his hips and belting out this song like a promise that we would all reach across whatever valleys are put in our path to be together.

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