I am lucky enough to live near enough to the Atlantic ocean that each day as I look our window I see its waters touch the shore.
Sometimes the tides come onshore with the tender caress of a lover, sometimes with all of the violence and energy of the winds that brought these waters from around the world right downstairs.
When I look out the window what feels like a thousand times each day, I watch for the tides. Is the tide coming in our going out? I look at the weather, is it sunny or stormy? Like most human beings, I focus on the things that might directly affect me. Am I going to get rained on? Should we take a walk on the beach? Are the winds strong enough we should move the plants from our deck inside and secure the patio furniture?
I am looking at the things that are going to directly impact me, my day. I look for the things that I might have to protect myself against or brace myself to cope with. I look for the things that might bring me joy, the sun on my face, the ability to go outside without fear of harm from the weather.
It occurred to me recently that these indicators I spend so much of my day depending on to guide me are only on the surface. They are only what I can see. The wind, the waves, the weather, and the every changing pattern the currents create on the water’s surface. I only look for; I only use what I can directly observe.
About 6 weeks ago before I was due for major surgery, as a special treat, my husband arranged for us to take a ride in a powered parachute. If you’ve never heard of one, don’t worry, I hadn’t before this either. It looks like a dune buggy but trails a parachute behind it that when driven fast enough on land, causes the chute to fully catch enough air to fill it enough to make you and your vehicle airborne.
Flying a few hundred feet above the waters I watch every day, I marveled at all of the new things I saw. This world of abundance just below the surface that I had no idea existed. I saw a family of manatees, schools of fish and sharks, large sea turtles, dolphins, and manta rays. I saw hawks and gulls and more birds than I could name and I saw reefs with such beautiful color combinations of coral that they looked like underwater paintings.
On this whole “flight”, I was thinking the whole time about my time as a caregiver. I was thinking of all of the time I looked only at the surface, only at the indicators that would directly affect me and I missed so much abundance because I didn’t know where to look for it or how to recognize it.
I searched my loved one’s facial expression for clues to the ebb and flow of their memory and mood.
I searched my loved one’s facial expression for clues to the ebb and flow of their memory and mood. I noticed their body language for indicators that a storm of agitation may be incoming. I looked for triggers like some people watch the tides for hints as to how our day would go.
What I didn’t do, what I should’ve done was spent more time paying attention to what was below the surface as well. Looking beyond what I observed for what my loved one was feeling, what I was feeling. What I could have done better was notice the abundance below the surface.
How many times each day was he content? Did he feel safe? Did he have moments free from pain if not full of joy? How many times did he look at me and smile, wink or give a nod in my direction? How many times did I miss the abundant beauty below the surface because I was bracing myself for the next unpredictable wave?
I still look out at these same waters just as often every day, but now I look at them with a different kind of knowing. I look at them with a deeper appreciation for all of the beauty and life that lies just below. I look at those waters like I look at persons living with dementia, with a deeper appreciation and understanding that there is an abundance of beauty and life and energy that is very worth exploring.
When Caring Takes Courage: A Compassionate, Interactive Guide for Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers
Mara’s passion and life’s work has been to learn the best practices which capable caregivers (both professional and family member) use to find success, joy and hope in the face of this devastating disease and find a way to share that information with those who deal with dementia on a day-to-day basis. She is the 2015 Jefferson Award Recipient: Outstanding Public Service, and the 2015 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award Recipient: Outstanding Public Service on Behalf of and Throughout the United States. She continues to be an active speaker and advocate for those impacted by dementia worldwide. Learn more about her work at: www.whencaringtakescourage.com.
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