This past week I experienced a major shift in my emotional reaction to my memory and cognitive losses. I have often focused on what I have lost and what I can no longer do, and projected on the future…picturing myself being of less and less value to my family, my friends, my community. During these times I can feel very sorry for myself and have said more than once, “I feel like I’m just taking up space.”
There have been many times in my life when I have experienced what I call “divine intervention”: When the right person says just the exact right words to help me unearth a truth, re-frame my thinking, and move forward. This has happened so frequently I am no longer surprised by the occurrence, but I always feel incredibly fortunate for the gift.
Last week was an example of what I’m trying my best to describe.
I was having a down day—a pity party for myself really—when unexpectedly my daughter stopped in. Almost immediately she could tell something was wrong and asked me, “What’s going on, Mom?”
I explained I felt I was “getting worse” in regard to my memory. I had recently resigned from the Hospice Board, because I felt I could no longer contribute coherently. I was having trouble writing my blog posts. When trying to share a story with the grandchildren, I often lose my train of thought and can’t finish it with any sense of closure. I can no longer offer child care to young mothers who are dear to me.
I ended by adding, “I feel like I just don’t matter much anymore.”
Beth reached for my hand and said, “Mom, of course you matter. Mom, you matter now—and will in the future—and even after you’re gone. Like Galen. Even though he’s no longer with us, he matters and always will.”
Beth left shortly after our conversation, but her words stayed with me. Galen, Beth’s second child and my grandchild, died five years ago at the age of fifteen. Galen was fair skinned with white/blond hair and an ever-present smile. He was always optimistic and had an easy-going, engaging disposition from birth. When Galen was a toddler I started calling him “my sunshine” because of these traits. Every time I think of him, I recall his contagious optimism. Once when he had captured a butterfly that had broken wings, I expressed my sadness that the butterfly couldn’t fly any more. Without hesitation he offered, “No, but he can still walk. So now he’s a butterwalker.” Galen never lost that positive take on the world.
Beth was so wise. Of course, Galen’s presence in my life will always matter. The same is true of my mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, teachers, clergy—all of these people have mattered in my life, and still matter today. How many times do I share stories or quote the wisdom they have offered to me? Their lives, even as some became aged and frail, have been examples of strength, courage, graciousness, and love.
These thoughts brought me back to my conversation with Beth and the present and near future, and prompted me to write in my journal:
I matter when I feed the birds, when I plant flowers that help pollinators, and when I am a good steward of the land I on which I reside.
I matter because I contribute financially to causes that encourage and support peace and justice.
I matter because I am willing to be a test subject in the quest to learn more about memory decline.
I matter because I write about my experience and share it for all to see.
I matter when I’m patient and accepting of what often seems “unfair.”
I matter because what I do, what I believe, and how I act, affects my children, grandchildren, and great grandchild.
I matter because the Divine has destined me to live in this present time and to make choices that are for the good.
I matter because every atom on earth and in the Universe matters….
And even if I become totally forgetful, incapable of recognizing my family and friends, unaware of who and where I am…I still matter. I still matter because the “end” is only a small fraction of how I’ve experienced and lived. And guess what, Virginia, you aren’t at that place yet. So concentrate on what matters now.