Wednesday, February 09, 2011
I am humbled after spending a few hours today with a woman I met months ago in the Alzheimer's support group we attended, which turned out not to be very supportive. Her husband, like mine, is afflicted, but unlike mine, he is of the appropriate age, if such exists, for this miserable disease. He is in a nursing home now as caring for him became too much for her, despite having household help. I am mostly in denial that Flip and I will reach such a cruel pass, but that is not the point of this particular post.
I greatly admire my friend D's endurance as she has withstood multiple personal tragedies which would have completely destroyed most people. Her daughter, who suffered from depression, committed suicide three years ago, leaving a year old baby. Her son-in-law quickly remarried and moved far away, so she rarely sees her grandchild. I can't imagine anything worse than outliving ones own child as it is out of the natural order of things. When D was fifteen, her own mother was a suicide. An only child whose father was not in her life, her relatives declined to take her in so she has been on her own since then. And she has had to watch her husband disappear into Alzheimer's Dementia.
D lives in a Victorian house which is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and we are in a city noted for its stunning architecture of that period. She is an artist, and the light within her home is exquisite, as is her taste. Everything has been selected with love and an artist's eye, yet it is warm and comfortable. I could effuse endlessly, but I'm sure you get the idea.
I wonder why some people are able to withstand unspeakable pain with courage and grace, while others implode. D is a devout Catholic and her faith is an enormous comfort to her, yet I don't think it is necessary to be religious, or even to believe in God. I do believe it is important to find something larger than oneself which inspires passion and offers solace. Whether that is art, volunteer work, spiritual practice, a business, teaching, or something else is immaterial as long as it is fulfilling. D has a strong support system in her two remaining children, although one lives in Spain and she doesn't see him often enough. I'm sure she also has many friends as she is a lovely, kind and intelligent woman.
But maybe some people are just stronger than others, whether by nature or because they were nurtured. Strength derives from being comfortable within ourselves, and not needing others to validate our worth. It is important to resist defining ourselves by our tragedies. Since we never know the burdens another carries, envy is absurd as well as unworthy of anyone's higher self. It is also a careless waste of our brief time on earth and inevitably leads to a victim mentality which serves no one well, while spending time with people of strength and character can only help us to become more like them. At least, I'm counting on it.