As my month of fibroid-removal surgery recovery in Wisconsin comes to an end, I’m trying to spend as much time with my dad as I can. He has Alzheimer’s and lives at a local nursing home.
He doesn’t walk or talk anymore… and in a weird way, it’s easier to visit and feed him dinner because there’s no pressure to make small talk or keep his mind busy with games. His words are few, mostly gibberish — and his emotions, though sparse, are big and confusing.
BUT. He still looks like Dad 😏
(Below was as close as my mom and I could get to a smile "on demand")
So I’ve been thinking, during my time with him, what it must be like to BE him. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are framed through projected emotions from those of us on the outside… that’s the only perspective we have — our loved ones are seemingly torn away from us.
(Below: My dad and I on my wedding day in 2011 — a few years pre-diagnosis)
But I also know things are “good” (or “bad”) because we perceive them as such. So I’ve been pondering: Is it possible my dad’s situation isn’t all bad?
We talk in yoga philosophy about how “The yogi travels light.” And on many spiritual paths, the whole idea is to live life, but not hold too tightly to anything. To let go of grudges, pay debts, resist material temptation, be present, feel pain and let it go — avoiding suffering in the process.
There are times when life forces us to let go. And there are times we choose to let go. Alzheimer’s is a weird (and oftentimes slllowwww) combination of both. I’ve been trying to imagine what it must be like to be my dad, and consciously have to let go of every single aspect of life that you’ve ever known. Career, home, responsibilities, identity, family, memories, physical abilities, and even his intellect and life wisdom. (Seriously… imagine!) Every part of him has regressed to almost a child-like state of forgetfulness.
And that’s the heart of it.
To me, childlike “forgetfulness” is, in a way, actually a one-ness with God/goddess/universe/creation (choose what resonates with you). When we come into the world, we are abruptly pulled from oneness, as we learn we are “separate” from mother. We continue to forget our “oneness” the older we get, and the more focused we become on our individual self.
But, within each of us remains that core knowing that our body is made of the same elements as all living things, and our soul is part of the infinite aspect of the Universe. If we’re lucky (and diligent!), we get to “remember” that blissful state throughout life.
We might taste that sweet nectar while we dance (I love the above photo of Dad at my best friend’s wedding!), during meditation, rituals and ceremonies, as we sing, ski/snowboard, attend our place of worship, gaze at breathtaking scenery, hear the hoot of an owl or the call of a raven... whatever stirs us to our core. But the kicker is that even after a blissful moment, we must then go back to playing our roles.
We must go from a meditative high to cleaning up metaphorical (or literal!) dog sh*t
I try so hard to keep my own blissful undercurrent going through the most blahhh aspects of life, but alas: I’m human! And Dad? He’s human too... but I can assure you he no longer carries any of his worldly possessions, attachments, autonomy, responsibilities or memories.
As a yogi, Dad is traveling very VERY light. He made the ultimate sacrifice of letting go of everything he knew… for the unknown. And what’s left after everything else is gone? I could contemplate that for a lifetime!
But in Dad’s case, I’m choosing to believe that while he shows us brief moments of emotion and recognition, all that’s left within (especially by the time he makes an exit from this world someday) is that sweet sweet oneness. Not based on his facial expressions. Not based on his gibberish. Simply a hunch — rooted in spiritual intuition.
It’s “bad” through the lens where I wish I could talk to him and laugh with him, and DANCE together again IRL. And it’s also “beautiful” through the lens of him accessing a direct connection with God — knowing someday we will definitely dance together again.
What’s “bad” is also “beautiful.” Both are real. We only recognize one because we know the other… I think that’s the whole point.
I’m feeling grateful in this season of life. Thanks so much for reading.
Sending you lots of love and healing vibes!
Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Mollie is a cheesehead transplant to Northwest Montana, with degrees in Retail and Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, she lives off the grid, half the year in a Tiny House & half the year in a yurt — both of which she and her husband, Sean, built by hand. Nonprofit Executive Director by day, Mollie also owns and teaches at Yoga Hive — a chain of community yoga studios in the valley.