After a long and successful open heart surgery, we were about to call my sons on Skype. It was time to see each other and hear one another’s voices. I was beyond excited, but right before I heard the ringing on the other line, my brain went completely blank and I couldn’t remember my sons’ names. It took me a while, but with some help, I was able to have a decent conversation with them. After we hung up, I felt ashamed that I could’t remember their names. Then it dawned on me that I couldn’t even remember my own name, or the people who came to visit me at the hospital, or some of the most important memories of the past 46 years.
After I had open heart surgery, I was told that I would experience some brain fog (which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “a usually temporary state of diminished mental capacity marked by an inability to concentrate or to think or reason clearly”). I was not prepared for how long it would take. My surgeon kept telling me it would improve in a couple of months, but a couple of months turned into a couple of years. And even though now my mind is fairly “normal,” it is still not at all as sharp as it once was.
When these short episodes of “misplaced” information happen, I tend to feel embarrassed and frustrated. I silently scold myself… “Beba, come on. You used to work at a law firm! You used to lead a successful ministry! Snap out of it!” I thought I was “all that and a bag of chips,” but now, I often find myself missing small things like the ability to read an entire book. Most days, I can’t even get through two pages. This is not a call for sympathy, but perhaps a plead for patience for those who, like me, suffer from a health issue that prevents them from behaving as they used to.
I read an article about an elderly man suffering from dementia whose daughter bought him a one way ticket because she was done with him. It broke my heart to no end. We seem to have more patience for our precious pets than we do for our aging parents or sick relatives. These days, I have had to teach myself to be my own caretaker, and I can tell you — it is not easy. I do have loving sons and family members who help me out a lot. I couldn’t be more grateful for them. But in all honesty, this is a struggle I never thought I would ever have to experience. So, I have deep respect for caretakers and those who suffer.
Friends, I understand the burden of being someone who needs care as well as someone who helps care for an aging parent and/or sick family members. It is not easy, but what an honor it is giving back to them! I remember when my dad became terminally ill. I watched him lose control of his life quickly, and I saw that strong man with big arms become frail and pitiful. I secretly watched him cry because he felt worthless. At the time, I could not understand why he became silent. Why couldn’t he talk about what he was going through? Now that I have been chasing life for seven years with an incurable condition, I can so relate to him. Though I may be silent to others at times, I have so much to say, and I am having long and deep conversations with the only one who truly understands — God.
Quiet conversations are amazing in that they catapult you into a courageous living that fights off the negative thoughts and the limitations you face daily. I do have days when I feel sad, but I am learning to fight hard through those feelings. I am learning to be brave in the midst of sorrow and confusion. So what I am trying to say is, let’s live courageously, friends! Let’s gather up the strength and patience to see beyond someone else’s attitude and physical/mental limitations and remember the soul of the person, the beautiful memories made, and the strength with which they cared for and loved you. And don’t forget to hope. Always hope for better days for they will come… maybe not today, but someday hope will carry you to that beautiful place you often dream of.
P.S. Some time ago, I joined my friend Jessica West’s Facebook group: Team Memory Maker/ Striving for a Cure for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I’m often encouraged by the stories I read there. It has become a good source of strength for me personally and it may be one to you as well either as a caregiver, or as a patient . Check it out!