It’s after eight in the evening of – August 24, 2018. It’s dark. I’ve been reminiscing. I’ve gone back in my memories to think of gladness. The year? It was 2003. Join me.
The months of July and August were awful. I sat in my husband’s chair for hours on end, unmoved by any gladness around me. Why? Alzheimer’s disease had grabbed my beloved husband and forced me to watch his body fail along with his – oh – so wonderful mind. He left me in July of 2003. It was difficult to move on. Alzheimer is a scary word. Scarier still are the terminal, mind-erasing characteristics that afflicts a victim of this slowly progressing yet completely mind-crushing disease. As you can tell, I was devastated. Sitting in my sorrow one early evening, needing something – I don’t know what – I rose and looked out the window. There was a beautiful, glowing but fading sunset in front of me. It was spectacular, I took the lovely view with me to bed. When I awoke in the morning, wondrous colors of the sunrise filled the sky. It seemed nature was talking to me, giving me an example to follow. Think about it. When we realize the sun never sets, but disappears from our view to be honed for the morning to come, you can visualize that the myriad sweet, yet sometimes gloomy sunset and sunrise describe our own emotions. Thanks to God, humans have a gift that enable us to look forward with a hopeful outlook. Nature is telling us to rest on a gloomy evening when clouds sweep over the nighttime sky, yet get up in the dawn like the beautiful sun, and start anew.
So I did. And what do you know. The sunsets and sunrises turned everything around. I remembered that Alzheimers, in spite of mental devastation, gives the afflicted happy moments. He may tell his caretaker(s) of a beautiful trip he just took, of a favorite song he just heard, of his mother’s voice calling him to dinner. You see, while the afflicted gradually loses touch with the present, he is able (at moments) to live in a past that unfolds a treasured memory. Even though this brutal disease can completely wither both mental and physical strength of the sufferer, there are memories of joy.
What do you know. I listened to nature. The sunrises turned everything around. I volunteered and became a Big Sister to a Little Sister. I joined a book club. I wrote a dog book and it became that breed’s best seller. I wrote another book. Life began anew for me just as the sun shines anew each morning.
It would have been easy to wallow in sadness the rest of my life, dwell only in my own problems. Stephen Post, PhD (Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics AT Stony Brook University in New York), says, “Volunteering is a giving activity which rewards donors a forty-four percent lower death rate than those who don’t volunteer.”
It would have been easy to not open the door so I could enjoy the sights of the trees and flowers and rain and snow. It would have been easy to no longer remember what joys life used to have. It is fact that when one holds on to negative emotions like overdone sorrow and bitterness, one’s health suffers. Dr. Post tells us that in a thirteen year study, people with “sunny dispositions” (there is the sun again) “had far less arterial narrowing” than those who complained. Many people enjoy complaining.
I found I could walk with the sun each day. Whenever I looked at a sunbeam I breathed in gladness. Gladness helped me stop moaning about the loss of my dear husband. That brought me to thoroughly enjoy each moment outside, which I had put behind me when my care taking duties took over. Then something – something – happened. I opened my bedroom closet door one morning and saw my husband’s favorite cap (I could not throw it away) had fallen on the closet floor. Lucky, my Portuguese Water Dog, who was beside me, leaned down and smelled it. He sniffed and sniffed it. He looked up at me, wagged his tail, grabbed the cap, and began carrying it proudly around the house. wagging and wagging his tail in joy. That night he laid his head on the cap before he went to sleep. His actions brought many, many tears to my eyes. The long-ago scent brought back joyful memories to the dog he left behind. Amazing.
The gladness I felt spread to a far-away friend who had lost her husband. She too, found it difficult to let go of her grief. When I told her about the glorious sunrises stimulating me because I found them an example of how wonderful tomorrow can be; when I told her the remarkable story of my dog’s emotional reaction to the scent of his master, she oh’d and ah’d . She thanked me for my suggestions. I encouraged her to hurry up and volunteer. “Join a book club,” (as I did), “Volunteer at a hospital,” (as I did). That was the beginning of her new gladness.
Life is really beautifull.