Gratitude 101 – Question 1
Carol A. Hand
“… today, on reflection, why am I most grateful for having a functioning brain?” (Skywalker Payne, January 7, 2015)
I will soon be eight years older than my mother was when her dementia became apparent. It was the year I moved back to Wisconsin, and before I went back to the university to complete my BA and MSSW with a focus on gerontology, policy, and administration. It was after my decision to return to complete my degrees because of what I had witnessed as a nurse’s aide, attendant, and home health aide caring for people whose cognitive and self-care abilities were affected by birth, abuse, institutional placement, accidents, or illness.
My mother’s forgetfulness, tendency to repeat herself, and inability to find words were all new behaviors. These changes followed a routine medical exam that stopped her heart due to an allergic reaction to the dye injected to examine her kidneys. Yet my father was there to help her remember, to complete her sentences, and to remind her of the necessary daily chores. The extent of her cognitive losses didn’t become apparent until after my father’s death fourteen years later. I did my best as her legal guardian to help construct supportive environments over the last sixteen years of her life as the cause of her dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, slowly eroded her memories and abilities for self-care.
Because of my experiences with my mother and those I have worked with over the years, I don’t take my ability to think clearly for granted. But I don’t often take the time to be grateful. I learned some preventive measures as a result of my mother’s experience. Vitamin E and Omega 3 with D3 are the only “medications” I take every day. I read, write, and fall asleep with cryptograms to keep my mind working. I exercise physically most days, and avoid Western medical practitioners as assiduously as possible. Most importantly, I try to remember to take time throughout the day to breathe in peace, love, light and joy.
I am grateful for my ability to think, reason, process, and question. Yet, to be honest, my critical thinking ability has been both a gift and a challenge in my life. It’s not something I could really share with my mother. Her strengths were empathy and compassion. It was my father’s influence that forced me to develop analytical skills in order to survive. These very skills, however, often placed me on the margins. I find it amusing that there are now treatments to help people become “smarter.” But what is the value of intelligence without compassion? Intelligence, like the many other wondrous abilities our brains bestow, is quite meaningless without the recognition that it is our responsibility to use these gifts to help others.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Skywalker Payne for inspiring this reflection.
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