Several years ago my dad went to a relative’s funeral. During the mass, the priest told the story of a man who complained to God about the weight of the cross he was bearing. God listened and gave him a different one. Soon after, the man complained again. This cross, it turned out, was even heavier than his. God listened again, and again gave him a different cross. Soon after, the man came back. This time, he asked God to take away this third cross as it was too heavy, and give him his original cross. Although it was heavy, he could bear it.
My dad has told me this story many times, and each time I love listening to it. As much as I can, I try living by it.
The last 10 years of my life have not been easy. When I was 26 my mother was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia. Up until then she had been rapidly withdrawing from my, and everyone else’s, life. After her diagnosis we had a name to what was happening, but I was not prepared for everything that she, and my family, went through until her passing in December.
During this time I have tried to stay positive about life, and look at the many good things that the last 10 years, and even her illness, have brought. Through my mom’s illness I have become more understanding and empathetic; I have become a better person. I have become closer to my dad and to my sister. I have also become someone who, rather than dwell on problems and complain about the general difficulties of life, has learned to live with the life I have been given. I bear my own cross, and I do it without complaint.
So many people around me do the same, including Mary who has used her own struggle to help others going through infertility, and Jenna, who despite having a very serious heart condition, lives her life fully, happily and optimistically. These women inspire me to keep this positive attitude despite the difficulties of life. They remind me that while their moms are around, they too have worries and sadness to live with, just like everyone else.
My mom was also this way. In the thick of her illness, she had a smile to give us. Her life, even before her diagnosis, was not easy, but her smile always was. I don’t wish my difficulties on anyone, and I don’t wish to have anyone else’s life; I don’t know what it is they are going through.
Although we are all human and we all often complain about silly things like a couple of extra pounds, difficult choices we must make, or overbearing parents; perspective is always a good way to bring us back to reality.
My reality is that I have a family, I have a husband who I love and two wonderful children. I have a house to live in, and friends and an education. Sometimes I need to cry on someone’s shoulder and dump all of my sadness and insecurities onto them. When I do, that person is often my husband or my sister. But in general I try to think of the bright side because for each of my problems, I have at least one thing to be grateful for. I don’t have the right to complain.
This is why it’s been so hard to write about my mom’s death. Despite her and my suffering, I feel that we had many things to be grateful for. How many people get to die at home surrounded by loved ones? How many people can say their mom not only loved them, but also “got” them?
I know that my experience can help others going through similar situations. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 1 in 3 seniors in the U.S. dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. So from now on you’ll read more about my mom and my experience with FTD. It won’t be easy for me to write, and it may not be always easy to read either, but I truly hope it is helpful to you or someone you know.
In the mean time, you can read what I’ve written in the past about my experience: Talking about Dementia: Dos and Don’ts