My mom asked me the other day if I still remember what my step dad was like before he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s…because she feels like her memories of him pre-Alzheimer’s are slowly slipping away. I still remember what he was like back then, but thinking about it feels strange…almost like I’m remembering a different person.
In a way, I am.
That’s the thing about dementia. It’s not clear or black and white. It’s both/and. He is both himself and not himself. Both the person he has always been and not the person he used to be. Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s is a slow and strange form of grief. Psychologists call this ambiguous loss.
Sometimes, for the briefest moment, it seems like everything is the way it used to be. He’ll laugh at a sarcastic comment that I make, or he’ll give me a knowing look, or his face will light up with joy when he plays with one of my pugs…and it’s like, just for a moment, things are back to “normal”. And just like that, the moment is over.
He gets a confused look on his face, he stumbles over his words, or he fails to follow instructions so simple a small child could understand, and I’m snatched back to reality…the reality of watching someone I love disappear ever so slowly.
I’m learning to accept that loving someone with Alzheimer’s isn’t clear cut or black and white. It’s messy. It’s confusing. It’s hard. It’s an experience filled with all kinds of emotions. Gratitude for the things we still have + grief over what we’ve lost.
Gratitude + grief can coexist.
To anyone reading this who has a loved one with Alzheimer’s, please know this: I see you. I’m praying for you.
You are not alone.
“I can walk down this dark and painful road. I can face every fear of the unknown…We have hope that His promises are true. In his strength, there is nothing we can’t do.” – “Same Power” by Jeremy Camp