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The Choice to Suffer
Many years ago, I took care of an old man with Alzheimer’s.
For over six months, I fed him, gave him his showers, dressed him, kept him company, wiped his butt, and took him for walks. I also fended his ‘crazy’ spurts – like when he tried to hit me all the way out of the house, then locked me out and was laughing maniacally through the window (Oh, yes. Ha. Ha. Ha. ).
I took care of him because in the initial interview, I took to his wife – I really liked her. With dark circles under her eyes, she was completely overwhelmed, struggling to care for him 24/7. But, man…the she showed her husband; the tender way she looked at him! He had no idea who she was, but still, she didn’t skip a beat. I wanted to help her, so I joined ship.
That period taught me a lot. I was in such a raw state in my own life, that I could not bear to be touched. But, sometimes this old man could only be soothed by holding his hand. I’d have to hold his hand and go to this place of stillness inside myself, let that energy come across, and only then would he quiet whatever agitation might have stirred up.
I would watch him for hours as he gazed outside. He saw things that I didn’t. I wondered what they were. I’d wonder if his glasses were magical, that through them he could view other worlds.
You could say he was suffering, but while I’ll never know for certain, I don’t think that was true. His mind was almost gone to another place, but for the most part, he seemed happy and healthy.
The people that really could have been suffering through this were his family members. His many children. His bright wife. But to suffer or not was their choice – and they chose not to.
They consciously chose to take his Alzheimer’s in stride. To learn and grow as a family unit. Bond ever-tighter. To request help when they needed it (enter me), and form a net of pure love to catch this man who meant so very much to them.
Alzheimer’s was a tragedy in that it took this man, while alive, from his family. It was a gift in that it allowed them an opportunity to grow – in spirit, as a family – in a way they may not have otherwise. They were lovely people.
My daughter has an extra chromosome. A lot of people like to say that she’s afflicted; that she’s suffering from it. I don’t know if she is. She doesn’t seem like she is. But, what do I know?
I like to think that she’s a maverick spirit that wanted to experience the world from a different perspective. I like to think that she’s pushing me to understand unconditional love. This little girl will never fit into a box; any box. The very nature of Down syndrome means that you don’t know what is going to happen next.
I need to love her as she is. In this very moment. With the future, as it unfolds, however it may be.
I think this is a lesson worth learning.
Meriah writes about parenting, disabilities and travel on her blog With A Little Moxie.