My therapist, as she prepares to depart and go live the life I had envisioned for myself—to travel the world ceaselessly until she drops dead while teaching English as a second language—tells me to consider the gifts of my husband’s disease.
It’s like a bucket of cold water. It has a wet, stinging, eerie feeling about it.
As she repeats almost exactly what my own plans had been, it takes me right out of the present and into some other dimension, a sort of mindful observing. It’s like Elizabeth Gilbert’s version of “the idea” had visited itself upon me and found that I couldn’t accept it and so moved on—to someone else.
It’s like magical thinking manifesting itself all over my reality.
And the gifts. It seems cruel to me to tell someone whose husband has been diagnosed with dementia to consider the gifts of their situation. Perhaps she meant the three books she gave me upon parting?
But ok, I’ll play. The gifts are as follows:
The biggest, most significant gift has been that my husband’s dementia has unhesitatingly separated out the people who love me and who are there for me from the people who don’t and who are not. I’m surprised that I don’t feel more deeply about this, that I’m not more hurt by this. People who I really thought would be there in this kind of situation scurried away quickly. Disappeared from my life as if they had never existed at all. And, people who had not been around, who I rarely talked to or saw but who always mattered to me, these people amazingly stepped forward and stepped in. And I am truly grateful and amazed by their presence.
The next gift is closely related to the first and this is that when these people who I loved and thought I could depend on walked away, I survived and actually felt lighter. I easily let them go instead of clinging to them, hoping they would come back. I realized that people have to be there for you because they want to, and if they don’t want to, there’s no use in trying to coax them in. If you present someone with horrifying information about yourself and they run away, that act conveniently answers every question you could have had. So from this I felt stronger and realized that I got back some time that I had been devoting to thinking about these scurriers.
Searching my brain for gifts…Well, I suppose that the recent reading I’ve done has been a gift. Learning about nonviolent communication has been a big gift. Listening to Brene Brown’s Rising Strong has been a gift. Listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic has been a gift.
Finding my husband’s doctor and learning how to eat for better health has been a gift.
Finding my husband’s doctor and being in the presence of someone who has such a positive vibration has been a gift.
Do these gifts offset the depths of despair and my deepening awareness of terror?
My husband’s doctor asked me: are you afraid? (He was referring to chiropractors, but there was subtext which was: are you generally a fearful person?)
Refusing to be embarrassed, I chirped: Yes! Fear is one of my best friends. We hang out a lot.
I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of Fear in Big Magic. She says that Fear gets to come along on her creative journeys, she acknowledges and makes room for it and even invites it, but her fear never ever gets to drive.
A gift. Having Elizabeth’s words in my consciousness and her voice in my head. Yes, that is a gift.
Magical thinking? Could that be a gift? Learning more about neuroscience. A gift? Standing up to neurologists. A gift?
It seems to me that the most important gift so far in all this madness and confusion has been the realization that I can’t spend time on people who walk away. I can’t run after them, I can’t spend time thinking about them. And I can’t harbor hurt feelings that they are gone. I have to just let them go, like leaves on the surface of a pond, let them float away, all the way away, and as I release them, I have become indifferent.