Archive for the ‘Codependency’ Category

We learn how to manipulate or at least impact other people’s emotions early in infancy.  Before we can even speak, we start making a connection between our behavior and our care giver’s reactions.  We have to get people to feed us, change our diapers and pay attention to us.  Our very lives depend on it.

Its no wonder that many of us also get the message that we are responsible for other people’s emotions.  It’s such a short step from understanding that if Mom or Dad is sad or angry, they are not really able to hold and sooth us to thinking that if we want to be held and soothed, we have to help Mom or Dad feel OK, and another short step to believing that we aren’t OK unless our parents are OK.

The perk of this belief is that not only does it help us get our immediate needs met, it also gives us a sense of power and control.  We can make sure our needs get met by “fixing” those around us.  The catch is that people don’t usually like being fixed.  They usually rebel or put up a fight.  More troubling, that sense of power and control that comes from trying to fix others is an illusion.  We can’t fix other people.  We can’t make someone happy when they aren’t, love us when they don’t, exercise when they won’t, or healthy when they are ill.

Perhaps more than any other disease or ailment, Alzheimer’s rubs our noses in our own powerlessness and lack of control, in our utter and complete inability to fix someone.  For me, this means that I have to accept that I cannot “fix” my mother.  I can’t make her happy or help her “keep on the sunny side.”  I can’t take away her fear, sadness, frustration, anger or pain.  I can’t jump start her out of apathy or inspire her to go to exercise, do crafts, or take an interest in anything.  I can’t even make her understand that she needs new shoes because her old ones are worn out or convince her that it’s important to shower every few days.

Against the overpowering force of Alzheimer’s, there is no denying that the only person I can “fix” is me.  And, more frustrating still, that the “fixing” that needs to be done is an inside job.  None of the traditional avoidance strategies work.  I might get some temporary relief if I bury myself in work, zone out watching TV, crank my endorphins up at the gym, buy a new pair of shoes, drink a glass of wine or eat a bar of chocolate, but the painful feelings still come back.  The only way through the feelings is through the feelings.  The only lasting relief comes when I let myself rage at the Alzheimer’s that took my mother away from me, roar at the God who let this happen, scream out my fear, sob out the pain in my broken heart, and let myself feel the love of the Universe flow through me.

Most people are aware of the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

But there is another verse:

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


It is the second verse that gives us the answer for how to deal with losing a parent or loved one to Alzheimer’s.  We can’t fix them.  We can’t save them.  And raging, roaring, screaming, and sobbing only clear the space for an instant in time if we don’t accept life as it is, and fill the space we’ve cleared out with a deeper trust that ultimately, it is all OK, in the cosmic scheme of things, and fill the hole in our hearts with love.




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