Today Is The Best Day
Dementia is a chronic, progressive condition without a cure. It always ends the same way.
We cope with this set of facts in one of two ways. Some of us tell ourselves there isn’t really a problem, that it’s all in our heads. We’re being overly dramatic. We’re making a mountain out of a molehill. It’s less painful that way.
Others of us focus on the inevitable conclusion. We visit less, call less, allow our minds to wander during interactions. We emotionally cut ties, moving into a numb space. There’s nothing we can do, so we do nothing. It’s less painful that way.
The Way We’re Wired
Tony Robbins says people do things for two reasons only: either to avoid pain or gain pleasure. And we’re naturally wired to do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure. It just requires less effort that way. Think about a hot burner. If you touch it, that’s instant pain. If you instead set a pot full of food on it, the hot burner will deliver a delicious meal–but it’s going to take some time to get that result.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I want you to know I get it. Avoiding pain is easier. We’re wired that way. I understand gaining pleasure takes more oomph. It’s just how we were made.
And also because one thing I know for sure is that when it comes to loving a person living with dementia, today is the best day.
The Time We Have Right Now
However bad you think it is right now, things are inevitably going to get worse over time because dementia is a progressive condition. We’re lucky to know that, so we can take full advantage of the time we have right now with our parent or partner.
It may be hard for you to believe that right now. You may feel like the best days were a couple of years ago. It’s natural to feel that way, to be aware of the loss of what was, what isn’t, and what will never be. I just want to make sure you know you’ll look back to right now someday, too.
All The Little Things
My grandma Angela, who died of vascular dementia, grew up very poor, only attending school through 8th grade. She came out west during the Dust Bowl and worked as a migrant farm worker. She was very proud of the fact she could read and write; one of her pleasures in retirement was writing (and getting) letters.
I once asked for her fried chicken recipe, which she sent return mail. Years later, after she’d died, I thought I’d lost it.
It’s those little things we don’t really think about at the time that wind up being a very big deal later. The turn of a phrase, the sound of a voice, seeing the handwriting. The feel of a hand, the smell of a kitchen, the magic of a giggle. The inside jokes, the shared history. It’s all the little things we take for granted that make today, right now, the best day.
Do all you can to celebrate right now. You don’t need to wait for a holiday. Take pictures, take video. Roll out the favorite recipes. Hug. Laugh. Enjoy. Sit next to each other and touch shoulders. Make silly faces at each other. Whatever it is, just jump into this moment with your parent or partner and use your super power to make it a great moment. Treasure it all, because today is the best day.
Grandma Angela’s Fried Chicken
Grandma included a little color commentary with her recipe, which was definitely to be expected. She didn’t have much confidence in my kitchen skills–they were obviously poor, or I would’ve known how to make fried chicken!–so she gave detailed instructions. In her own words:
Don’t know how to cook chicken? I thought ever body knew how to cook chicken! You said for me to send you the rep–here is how I cook it.
- Salt chicken.
- Coat chicken real good in flour.
- Melt about 1 cup lard are oil. Let get hot.
- Place chicken in pan.
- Cook over med. heat with lid over pan. Until done.
If your man don’t like the way you cooked it, just bring him down and I will cook one for him. And I might make you a glass of ice tea.
Note: “Pan” is cast iron, seasoned over about 50 years or so. Serve with black eyed peas, fried potatoes, and biscuits. “Ice tea” refers to tea-flavored sugar water.
Christy Turner is a speaker and consultant, founder of DementiaSherpa.com, creator of the program What To Do When Your Parent or Partner Has Dementia, and a featured guest on the The Alzheimer’s Podcast. Her segment “Guiding You Through Rough Terrain with The Dementia Sherpa” runs every other Tuesday. Christy has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families.