Whenever I tell people that my mom has Alzheimer’s, they furrow their brows and tell me how sorry they are.
“But my mom is a happy Alzheimer’s patient,” I say, and their foreheads smooth out, the corners of their mouths turn upwards, and sometimes they even smile.
Most people know what it means to be a happy Alzheimer’s patient. It means my mom is spared the experience of losing her mind while being in pain about it. It means she’s not aggressive, or violent, or nasty, which means everyone who cares for her is spared the experience of managing a difficult patient.
I see so much pain among the Alzheimer’s patients at the Hebrew Home; some people scream and moan constantly, as if every moment is excruciating, as if being alive is torture.
My mom and I are very lucky.
Not only is my mom’s experience with this disease more positive than I could have ever hoped it would be (which is not to say I am happy she got it, or even that I consider it a gift, because I don’t). But also, watching it unfold is teaching me so many things about life. Here are a few:
1. Smiling and being nice to people have a far greater impact than I ever knew. Smiling makes everyone’s life better, from the smiler to those being smiled upon.
2. Forgetting is not always a bad thing, especially when it’s resentment and anger you’re forgetting.
3. Living in the moment can be deeply gratifying. My mom doesn’t remember her grandchildren, but she’s loving the cookie she’s eating.
4. Losing your memory doesn’t cut you off from all of life. Some of life’s richest experiences are enjoyed through the senses, and the mind can actually get in the way.
5. Inhibitions have their place, but not when it comes to expressing love. Before Alzheimer’s, my mom was shy and often felt alone. Now she shows love every day, and she’s rewarded for it.
6. Loss is not always tragic (or not only tragic). Sometimes it opens doors to new ways of being, and to new relationships.
7. There is all kinds of happiness to be found in this world, some of it in the places where you’d least expect it.