There’s one Thanksgiving that is forever etched in my mind for all the wrong reasons. Although it occurred eight years ago, in many ways, it feels like yesterday. When I think of the November holiday that I once looked so forward to, the first image that comes to mind is from 2010.
As I thought about writing this post and what tips I might offer to help you make the most of your holiday, I found myself overwhelmed. It took several days of contemplation for me to come to the realization that it really all boils down to one simple – yet extremely difficult – concept.
Weeks before that fateful Thanksgiving in 2010, I had unwittingly crafted an idyllic vision of how it would go. This wasn’t deliberate, but my subconscious went to work on how the day would unfold, what the preparation would look like, how the meal would come together, and most importantly, how my mom would be that day – her mood, frame of mind, level of agitation, ability and desire to participate, and all the other things that go along with Alzheimer’s.
Of course, at some point, my subconscious went off the rails – thus the dreaded idyllic vision. I’m sure memories of beautiful holidays complete with cherished traditions, found their way into the mix. Without even realizing it, I had set myself up for disappointment, profound sadness, anger, grief, and a dozen other emotions. Naturally, there was no way this Thanksgiving could be compared to or measured against those blissful memories.
In this particular case, our reality bore no resemblance to idyllic. Mom was having a bad day. A very bad day.
That evening, I, along with Mom’s two caregivers and my daughter sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. By then, the food was cold, and my stomach was in a million knots. My dear mother was pacing and screaming as she had been all day. She was utterly inconsolable. Severe aphasia had long ago robbed her of the ability to communicate verbally, leaving her unable to express what was bothering her – or anything else, for that matter.
To Mom, that Thursday was just another day. It wasn’t her fault; it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was this damn disease, all part of the unexpected hand we’d been dealt. Simply put, the picture-perfect holiday I had envisioned dissolved into a pool of tears and when it was over, I swore off all future Thanksgivings.
I could close by listing my top 10 tips for a successful holiday celebration, but instead, I’ll gently remind you to be careful of your expectations. Keep them reasonable. Check yourself along the way and make sure your subconscious isn’t taking over and creating an expectation that the day can’t possibly meet.
Rather than working to create a holiday just like those of years gone by, focus on the current reality. Remember that too many people, a lot of noise and commotion, and sudden changes to routines can really throw your loved one for a loop. Plan accordingly. Spending quality time together and making cherished memories – when it’s all said and done, those things are much more important than setting an impeccable table or serving a perfectly plump juicy bird at 4pm sharp. Flexibility is your friend and goes hand in hand with maintaining reasonable expectations.
It sounds cliché, but the past is in the past, and today is all we have. Try to go with the flow, relax, and create moments of joy wherever you can. Treasure the simple things – an unexpected smile, warm hug, or the expression on his face when he tastes a favorite dish that just might trigger a moment of clarity.
Here’s wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving with the people who mean the most to you. And, don’t forget to be gentle with yourself…
Greetings, friends. It’s time for an Alzheimer’s Round Up. As always, thank you so much for reading. Stay tuned for some tips as you prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
Be Brain Powerful
This past week, the Be Brain Powerful campaign launched in NYC. This WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s campaign aims to bring awareness to women’s brain health and “ignite a cultural transformation in the way we care for our brains.” We talk about taking care of our bodies, but why don’t we talk about taking care of our brains? Be Brain Powerful will be a formidable health and wellness initiative, and Marilyn’s Legacy is proud to be a partner in this movement! If you had to choose one word to explain what brain health means to you, what would it be? Mine would be, independence.
Alzheimer’s Talks – Nov 20
Coming up at 1pm ET on November 20, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s hosts AlzTalks: A Biomarker Test – Now and in the Future. During the call, Scott Lewis, Director of Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnostic Pathway at Biogen, will discuss techniques used today to diagnose Alzheimer’s and what diagnosis might look like in the future. In addition, Melissa Bianchi, an expert in patient protections and partner at law firm, Hogan Lovells, will share thoughts on how families should prepare for receiving biomarker confirmation. The call is free, register by clicking here.
Keep Asking Questions
Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female ever named to the U.S. Supreme Court, recently disclosed she has been diagnosed with dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s disease. O’Connor retired from the Court in 2006 to care for her husband, John, who also had the disease. In his touching article for Psychology Today, Greg O’Brien shares the story of meeting Justice O’Connor in Arizona back in the 1970’s and the mentorship and friendship that ensued. Click here to read Greg’s article.
Exciting Research at West Virginia University
Judy Polak was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 and is now the only person in the world to undergo a new procedure using ultrasound waves in an attempt to slow the disease. The key is temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier, allowing antibodies from the immune system to pass into the brain and break up the plaques. You can read more about the trial, overseen by Dr. Ali Rezai, Executive Chair of WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, by clicking here.
An 11-Year Old Making a Difference
Hailey Richman is a force to be reckoned with! Her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when Hailey was just four, and that experience sparked her passion for helping others. Noticing there wasn’t much support available for kids, she started Kid Caregivers, a website providing support and encouragement to children affected by the disease. To learn more about how Hailey is using puzzles to help thousands who are living with Alzheimer’s, click here.