By Lana Turnbull
As we were putting together the reviews for this issue’s “BookShelf,” one of the books that fascinated me the most was Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again, by Kimberly Williams-Paisley. Reading about the stages of denial, frustration, acceptance and finally, love that the author and her family went through really hit close to home for me. In my family we have been going through similar challenges as we deal with the devastating diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
I was particularly touched by how a disease like dementia shakes the very foundations of the relationships we have with our aging parents. As children we look to our parents for everything – nurturing, protection, acceptance, and affection. As our parents get older and begin to lose some of their sharpness, their edge, that relationship is turned up-side-down. Once dependent children, we’re now forced to take on the nurturing, protective role, making decisions and providing guidance for the parents that we’ve always depended on. To be honest, all too often our first reaction is frustration and discomfort with our new role.
These reactions aren’t unique to our generation. I can remember my father, who was very close to his parents, occasionally losing patience with his dad in my grandfather’s later years. It stood out to me because it was so out of character. As my mom began to be increasingly forgetful, long before we realized that it was more than just the normal reality of aging, I found myself getting frustrated and curt, when that was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I’ve seen it again and again with other members of the family as the character of the relationship between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons begins to reverse.
My heart goes out to Kimberly Williams-Paisley and her family for what they went through. They aren’t alone. At this moment, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. For family members, coming to grips with what is happening to their loved ones can become a vicious cycle of denial, frustration, guilt, and avoidance.
So what is the answer? For the Williams family and for so many of us who are facing this challenge, the answer is acceptance. It comes from learning all we can about the disease and from talking to others who are going through similar challenges. It comes from praying for strength and grace and learning to forgive ourselves for our reactions so we can get past them and move to a place where we can embrace our new roles and responsibilities. And, finally it comes when we find new ways to love and cherish our moms and dads for all the days we have left with them.
It’s not easy. There will be good days and days that test us. But can’t you just imagine our parents saying the same about us as they guided us through each joyful, messy and sometimes painful stage of childhood. Somehow they found the strength and so will we. That’s what you do when you love somebody.