In life, many people adopt the mantra ΓÇ£everything happens for a reason.ΓÇ¥ I hear and say this a couple times every month, maybe even every week. ItΓÇÖs pretty easy to say this to someone, but when adversity strikes at a personal level, itΓÇÖs harder to believe.
Eight years ago, my grandmother suffered from a massive stroke and lost more than one third of her brain function, leaving her paralyzed and facing many challenges, one of which being severe dementia.
My family had to place her in Seven Acres, something that was equally difficult for my grandmother as it was for her daughter and son. Grandmother didnΓÇÖt realize she was in a nursing home or that anything was wrong with her. Because of the dementia, she always thought she was somewhere else. In her mind, she frequently went on dates with Anderson Cooper and Bill Clinton, would travel to New York City to attend a play on Broadway, and would visit Paris and eat by the Eiffel Tower. Other days she wouldnΓÇÖt have such pleasant thoughts- she sometimes couldnΓÇÖt identify who my family and I were, she would think she was in the Middle East stuck in the war, or was in a natural disaster.
With the ups and downs every day every day entailed, it was difficult to find something to rely on. So much sadness was surrounding grandmotherΓÇÖs situation, but my family and I were able to find an aid: laughter.
We had to focus on GrandmotherΓÇÖs happy moments. We would smile when we heard about the fabulous date she had with Bill Clinton at the White House and laugh with her whilst she relived the adventures she had created. In life you can either laugh or cry, and itΓÇÖs much easier to laugh and see things in a positive light. Dementia is a horrible diagnosis, and I know this is easier said than done, but optimism helped us get through this unimaginable situation.
IΓÇÖm not saying we were all always able to laugh and stay positive. It was difficult to feel forgotten by grandmother. When she couldnΓÇÖt remember who I was I would get upset, but I knew she was facing much more difficult challenges. I knew she had the same heart and soul and was still my grandmother. Instead on dwelling on something that couldnΓÇÖt be changed, we decided to celebrate the love and passion grandmother still had for life and help her live her remaining years to the fullest.
Everything does in fact happen for a reason. It took me years to see the positive impact my grandmotherΓÇÖs dementia created. It helped my family and I appreciate and lean on laughter, love, and one another. Without those things, we are nothing. ItΓÇÖs easier for me to reflect on this cheerfully because she passed away two years ago and I know she is at peace and whole again. My memories of her are not consumed with the adversities she faced with her dementia, but instead of the joy she had in her heart and the joy she brought to every person she met.
-Written by Laura Littlejohn as part of our Lessons Learned blog series