Thursday, January 26, 2012

Love Among The Ruins

Ah, love! It makes the world go round, or so the song says, and most of us will go to great lengths to experience the feeling in its myriad forms. We love our pets, our friends, our children, our families, and most us want to find one special person to love. We want to be connected, to find our soul mate, to feel completed and whole, and we believe if we find the "right" one that our world will be perfect, a heaven on earth.
Most of us have experienced times when we know with our heads that we love our families, friends, and spouse, but we don't feel it with our hearts because we may not like them very much at a particular moment. We feel anger or hurt or sometimes even hatred, but we still act in a loving manner towards the individual because we know that's the right way to behave. This is because most of us know, without using the terms, that love is both a noun and a verb, a feeling and an action. We learn over time that if we act lovingly, the feeling of love usually returns to give us that warm glow in our lives.

But what should we do when love unwantedly disappears in our beloved child, friend, or spouse? Well, when the individual is mentally healthy, we will usually try to change the dynamics of the relationship, if that is possible, or we will end the relationship. However, if the individual is mentally ill, and we are responsible for that person, we have to find a way to live with no shared loving feelings, while still acting in a loving manner. Not an easy thing to do.

Why love disappears in a few people with dementia or mental illness is a mystery--an atrophying of part of the brain perhaps or a chemical imbalance, but it is devastating to the loved ones left wondering where love went. It is a cruel, ironic, twisted stab to the heart. A person who once loved us with all his or her heart is no longer capable of feeling anything for us. Feeling, as we understand it, is gone. No empathy, no insight, no connection at all.

Yet, this person was once a beloved child, spouse, parent, sibling, or friend, and this person needs us to care for him; so what is a caregiver to do as his or her own feelings of love begin to wane in the emotional ruins created by dementia or mental illness?

My wise youngest son, who is my co-caregiver for his father, my husband, says we must choose to act in a loving, respectful way because that is who each of us wants to be as an individual. For example, we could choose to give my husband dinner by himself--that would certainly be more pleasant for us, and he wouldn't care one way or the other--but, instead, we choose to fix a full meal each night and dine with him as a family, honoring what we once had.

Being loving to someone in a void, in a vacuum, in an abyss is at times incredibly painful and lonely, sometimes even a nightmare. It goes against all that we think of as love. Songs do not sing about this kind of love. There is no acknowledging glance across a crowded room. It is all one sided. You give, but you don't get. No Hallmark card endings. All you have with this kind of love is your choice, and whatever choice you make about how you love when you love among the ruins, tells you everything about yourself. This is not the love we think of when we bask in the warm glow of our loving relationships, but it is sometimes a love we must experience.

Take care,

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Destiny Is More Than A Goat

I've always loved goats. For 21 years, while my children were growing up, we lived on 50 acres and had lots of animals. I loved them all, but the goats were the cutest. For years, I looked for a Nubian goat because of its adorable ears. Finally, the year before we had to move off our mountain paradise, I found a Nubian goat at the county fair. The young 4-H goat owner was happy to sell me her Nubian on one condition--I had to take her Alpine goat friend named Destiny. I didn't really want Destiny, but I did want the Nubian, so I brought both home.

Well, that was one of the best thing I ever did. My Nubian goat was dull and uninteresting. She was not friendly at all; in fact, she seemed completely devoid of personality. However, Destiny was the most delightful of companions. She was so excited every time I came to the barn. She would run to the fence and kiss me. She liked to frolic, and she enjoyed nothing more than for me and my youngest son to play with her in the pasture. I cried when I had to sell her because our new home did not have the facilities for a goat. I did, however, have the good fortune to sell her to a gentleman who was getting the goat as a pet for his grandchildren, so I knew Destiny would be well loved.

Having Destiny taught me a lot. She taught me that what I often think I want is not what I really want. I had thought I wanted a Nubian because of her cute ears, when, in fact, I wanted Destiny with her regular Alpine ears. Had the young 4-Her not insisted that I also buy Destiny, I would never have known what I was missing.

What else, I wondered, had I possibly missed out on in life because of a preconceived idea of what I wanted? Some men for sure. Why? Because my immature, romantic notion of the perfect mate was a tall, broad-shouldered man, like John Wayne, which meant that during my dating and mating days, I passed over men near my height. Who knows what gems I never even glanced at or considered?

Destiny also taught me that when my expectations were dashed, something unexpected might present itself. The Nubian goat was a huge disappointment, partly because I had built up how great a Nubian goat would be, and partly because she had a boring personality. But Destiny, for whom I had no expectations, gave me greater pleasure than I could have imagined. This gives me hope for my future.

Why? Well, my plans for my empty nest always revolved around my husband. We were going to have adventures together; we were going to grow old together after a lifetime of shared memories; instead, my husband developed dementia 15 years ago, and my empty nest days are spent caring for a person who has no adventures nor shared memories with me.

But, like my goat Destiny, there have been some delightful surprises. I had the unexpected, completely unplanned, opportunity to teach English at a community college for three years, and my students gave me great joy, joy I had never anticipated. Additionally, some of my colleagues have become friends, and my life would be poorer without them.

There is still much more of my life to live. What will it bring? I do not know, but I do know that because of Destiny, my pet goat, I say yes to many more situations than I had before she taught me what I would have missed out on if I had said no to her. Now, when a preconceived notion rears its ugly head, I remind myself of my goat Destiny, and say yes to something new, heading for a destiny that would not have been possible before Destiny came into my life.

Take care,


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