Thanksgiving is approaching, and we all ask each other “What are you thankful for?”
As a child, my answers were always related to getting the turkey leg or the giant homemade pies that were made by my grandmother with love. When she made the pie crust, I got to be the “official helper” and all of the extra dough was used to make cinnamon pinwheels. I put my oversized apron on (often just a towel tied around my waist), put my hair back and washed my hands (important rules I learned from her). I got to roll out the dough and spread butter all over it. Then came the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled all over the top, (with more landing on the table and floor), and then roll it up and cut it into slices. The hardest part was having the patience for them to come out of the oven, waiting to see my creation, and then getting to eat them with my grandma and a large glass of milk. Life was good and I was thankful.
Those were days before that ugly disease called Alzheimer’s disease entered our life and our Thanksgivings began to change. I began to be thankful for no tears before dinner, hoping there would be no outbursts during our meal, and trying to hurry and get through my dinner before “anything” happened. Our conversations changed as we tried not to upset my grandmother. We used smaller phrases and danced around subjects that we thought she would be able to contribute to without feeling bad. It was exhausting.
Some people tried to offer their understanding and help, but instead, just faded out of our lives- afraid of that taboo word “dementia”. Others could not take some of the different types of behaviors and words that were coming to the surface.
We got through those years by leaning on each other when we couldn’t stand alone, crying until we had no more tears and looking for support and doing research every chance we got. We also used a lot of humor. Most people don’t think of humor when they think of Alzheimer’s. Humor helps you get through the tough times and makes you feel like you are going to be ok. I have had some people tell me that they feel guilty if they find something humorous. We are still human and have emotions. Displaying our emotions is healthy and normal. People need to have as much normal in their life as possible when traveling on this journey with the one they love. Whenever my grandmother had a lucid moment, we would take full advantage of it. If we could get her to laugh, we would all start laughing, sometimes until the tears came again.
Getting support is critical when you have a loved one living with dementia and there are many great resources available. If you are facing a holiday with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Society offers a few tips to help make the holidays less stressful and more joyous for all involved:
- Plan ahead.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Keep them involved.
- Think simple.
- Be flexible and respond to mood changes.
- Sing or listen to soft music.
I now look at Thanksgiving in a whole different way. I think how thankful I am to have had the opportunity to walk through this journey with the people that I love. Even though it was the hardest journey I have ever been on, it made my family and myself stronger and more patient and tolerant of others. It made my daughters into the wonderful, kind, loving souls that they are. It has given me a lifelong goal to make a difference in the world and to help those that are crying at the Thanksgiving table, looking for any kind of relief or hope that they can find. It has also allowed me to let people know that they are not alone on this journey called Alzheimer’s.
As an adult, I am still thankful for the turkey leg and the pie, and the conversations that we have had, but I now look back at the thanksgivings with a different kind of thanks and appreciation of life in general. Thank you, Grandma, for what you have taught me.
Thanksgiving blog by our Cognitive Therapeutics Method Care Manager, Kim O’Roark CTRS, CADDCT, CDP