Friday, August 30, 2013

One Love

When we are born, we need to be loved and nurtured. We instinctively trust those who care for us, feed us, and keep us safe. If we are lucky, we have parents who do just that, and it is done out of unconditional love. They love us for us. Nothing more, nothing less. We do not come out of the womb caring what color someone’s skin is. We are not worried about what brand of jeans our parents wear or what type of car they drive. We learn what love is through our experience of being loved.

As we grow we are taught about sacrifice. We are taught about compassion. There are lessons on patience and kindness. These lessons continue throughout our childhood. But when are we taught to dislike something that is different or someone who is not like us? When are we told that what we do not experience or understand is something that is bad and wrong?

For some there is an easy answer. They may have had personal experiences that they remember and that pinpoint the time when they understood that certain people cannot be trusted. Perhaps a family member or a friend taught them that some people are not as good as others. But sometimes it is not so straightforward. Maybe it was the simple act of your parents locking the car when driving through a certain neighborhood that somehow registered in your brain and made you think that the people who lived there were dangerous and were to be feared.

While I was in the Alzheimer’s unit visiting my mother, I looked around at the diversity of people who live there. All of them were well cared for, no matter what their state or what stage of disease they were in. The women’s skin, all of them make-up free, was a pallete of different colors and shades. Their skin showed wrinkles and spots, but each of the women was beautiful just as she was.

The people were in all types of clothes, no brand names anywhere. Men wore their best pajama bottoms paired with their best polo shirts . People were sleeping, mumbling, yelling, singing, and rocking baby dolls. The nurses were busy helping people to the bathroom, getting them ready for lunch, and making sure they weren’t getting out of their wheelchairs. Some may see this as cacophony. That day I saw it as a symphony.

I was hit with the notion that again, in this stage of their lives, what they need is the same type of love that we needed as newborns, as infants. They needed help getting dressed, in using the bathroom, and bathing. They needed someone to help keep them safe. They needed help eating. They also needed compassion, tenderness, and connection. They were almost back to square one. Yet, as I sat there looking around, I didn’t see shortfalls in care and compassion, what I saw was love. The nurses, staff, and family members were giving exactly what was wanted and needed.

As the effects of Alzheimer’s disease become more severe, the victims tend to lose their filters. This means that sometimes a person will say or do things that don’t seem to go along with the personality of the person you once knew. They may curse although they rarely did before. They may push or yell when they don’t get what they want. But as these filters disappear, so do the prejudices, judgments, falsities, and hatred that we have learned throughout our lives.

None of these people care about the pigment of another’s skin. They do not care if you are carrying a Louis Vuitton purse or are wearing lululemon yoga pants. They do not care if you are gay or straight. Tall, short, fat or skinny means nothing. Do you go to church? They don’t know. They don’t care. Their determination of whether you are a good person comes down to a few simple facts. It comes down to how you treat them when you are with them, how they experience you as a human being. Do you greet them? Do you smile and take the time to talk with them and maybe give them a pat on the arm or a hug. Really, it comes down to whether you are acting out of love, plain and simple.

All the b.s. that we learn and seem to find important in our everyday lives means nothing to them. Things, material things, are obsolete. Someone who treats them with respect and values them as human beings is who matters. People of all colors, shapes and sizes are friends. They sit together and talk. They dance and sing together. They don’t see the colors or the fat or the age marks or care about the nonsensical things you say. In the locked down Alzheimer’s ward there is little judgment. Instead the people there see and experience love. Because everyone deserves to love and be loved. Everyone.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Sun On My Face

Sometimes we have days that make us stop and realize that we need to enjoy the simple things in life, to let go of petty things - the grudges we have, the bills that need to be paid, the person that cut in front of you at Starbucks. Days like the one I had today remind me of some of the blessings that surround me that I too often take for granted.

Today I was taking my mom to get a haircut and to lunch. I never know how that might go, but today she was in a good mood when I picked her up. She was excited that I was taking her out. I was feeling it. It was bound to be a great day with her.

While driving to the salon, I realized just how important it is to get her out of the facility. Things that we do every day of our lives become a special outing for my mom.

I was right. It was a good day. As we drove to get her hair cut, I let her talk about whatever she wanted. Rambling away about babies, and googly wooglies, and people and things I knew nothing of. She asked me questions, and I answered as best I knew how. One time she asked, “How are your brother and sister?” Well, I have a sister, but not a brother. At first I tried to figure out whom she was talking about. When she asked me the same question again, I just answered, "they are great! Keeping themselves busy!”

I never figured out whom she was talking about, but it didn’t really matter. I gave her the answer she needed to hear, the conversation that she needed. I think she just wanted to connect with me and talk and although most of what she said were bits and parts of thoughts and words, which together made little sense, I made sure I answered her in some respect. I wanted her to feel as if she was able to have a “real” conversation, that I was truly interested in her and what she was saying.

We had music on in the car. It wasn’t someone that she had ever heard, but she enjoyed the music anyway.  She hummed along to the tunes. She really loved two of the songs and we played them over and over. They were 3,000 Miles and One Day, sung by Emblem3. I always try to play her something that she might recognize, but today made me realize that that no longer mattered. If she liked it, she liked it, whether it was jazz singer Chris Connor or a new band on the scene, Emblem3.  We sang along together, just enjoying our time. She connected with the music and through the music we made a connection.

At one point she had a true moment of clarity. This hasn’t happened in a long time. When we were about to get some lunch, she said to me, “I am so glad that you can come and spend some time with me. It is good to get out. I am really having a wonderful time.” I had to swallow back the tears of joy. I responded by telling her that I was having a wonderful time and loved spending time with her. But alas, our moment was gone. She suddenly said, “What are we doing now? Where are we?” I simply explained that we were getting lunch and she was happy about that.

After having lunch and her telling me how good the chicken was, “probably the best she had ever had,” we headed home. Again she was humming along to the same music while eating a warm chocolate chip cookie. Her hands were smeared with the melted chips and she licked her fingers like we used to do as kids. Pure joy is what I saw in her. The kind of joy that only comes when you are truly in the moment and not caring what anybody thinks. Then she was pointing out the trees and the flowers that she was seeing. Again making me truly see those things that we take for granted, that we pass by every day, but rarely take the time to absorb their greatness, their simple beauty.

As we got out of the car to walk across the parking lot, she stopped, looked up and closed her eyes, letting the sunshine warm her face. She told me that it felt good to be in the sun. And she is right, it does. How easily we forget.

Take a lesson from my mom- stop and let the sunshine warm your face, breath in the fresh air, truly enjoy that cookie, find the wonderment in the simple beauty of nature, and sing along to the music and act like you know the words, even if you don’t. Enjoy the moment.