You Can Only Do What You Can Do

My grandmother was the sweetest, kindest, most devout woman who ever walked the planet. For some unfathomable reason, she got Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t tragic – she wasn’t younger – she had lived a good life, married to my grandfather for more than 50 years. She had succesfully raised two great children (my dad and my Auntie Elaine). She had decent savings (that generation ALWAYS saved for that rainy day) and had a loving family who kept her entertained most of the time. She loved ice-cream and pets and kids. Add to that Wheel of Fortune and the Golden Girls, and she had a pretty rich life. But why her? Why this sweet, gentle soul? Why should she lose her memories, lose her ability to express herself, add to conversations, and enjoy the day I got married? Instead, she’d look at us vaguely and say “Well, you can only do what you can do.”

As a family, we grieved, just as all families do, about what could have been without the dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. But here’s what we figured out: she never lost the ability to laugh. She was able to enjoy the things she always had, like ice cream, and kids, and pets and her favorite TV shows. SHE was still there – just as sweet and kind and devout as she’d always been. Yes, the disease robbed her of some things, and sometimes she needed our detective skills to figure out why she was irritable, but we could do that – or redirect her with some Maple Walnut until she calmed down. We could do what we could do

And today, I still do not know why she got it – why some of her siblings also go it, while others didn’t. And I may never understand the somewhat-random, but always “equal opportunity,” manner this disease chooses its victims. But I can still do what I can do.  I can work with people with dementia. I can advocate for humane systems of care. I can educate myself to learn everything I need to know to arm myself to fight for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I can teach others about it too. I can do research on programs that help such as music and laughter, and pain management, and managing caregiver stress. I can do what I can do.    —   How about you?

Tell us what you can do for older adults – what special talents/skills/gifts do you share with older people in your life? How do you enrich their lives while they enrich yours?

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