Alzheimer's blog

Caregiving and the holidays: Live in the present moment

By Angela Lunde November 29, 2011

Sitting with a group of caregivers a couple months back, I witnessed a group of ducks gently floating on the water. On the surface, they (the caregivers) seemed calm and at ease. Yet, as they began to feel safe and connected to each other, several spoke up about their bleak, unrequested journey. After a short time, the illusion of the calm duck dissolved. Below the surface, it was apparent just how fast and furious they'd been paddling to keep up their unruffled exterior. On the inside, they were struggling.

Many caregivers hold these personal inner demons — certain thoughts about their own situation that can weigh extremely heavy and increase burden, and yet aren't apparent to others. For example, thoughts of denial come and go (as written about in the last blog posting). Some caregivers hold negative issues and thoughts over how the relationship was in the past. We often think that the relationship the caregiver has had with person they're caring for was a loving one, but this isn't always the case. There's also the history (good or maybe not so good) the caregiver has with the extended family. And almost all caregivers grapple with thoughts of fear over an unpredictable future.

Eckhart Tolle, a contemporary spiritual teacher, says, "Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough presence."

Caregivers (all of us actually) often struggle by living with thoughts of too much future and too much past. Can caregivers find a way to lessen excess struggle (rid some personal demons) by living with greater presence? For some, this notion of living in the present can seem arbitrary and impractical. Yet, I'd like to offer one place to start — forgiveness.

Forgiveness can come in the form of absolving past grievances so as not to waste energy and spirit on situations that can't be changed. It can mean accepting (not necessarily liking) family members who don't live up to our expectations. It can mean extending forgiveness to ourselves by believing that we're doing the very best we can and allowing "good enough'' solutions to be the norm.

A life of greater presence can also include the practice of letting go — letting go of the fight to try and change what is beyond our control. The resolve to see things as they are and not use precious energy wishing things were different.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can strengthen or weaken us. It can be an opportunity for growth or a destructive passage. It can be a tool for discovering the joy of living in the moment and letting go of old baggage. It can teach us to prepare for the future without living in the future. And by living fully in the present we can be more compassionate to those around us and to ourselves.

The holiday season will likely challenge good intentions of living with presence. Try choosing not to dwell on the past, or worry (as much) about what the season may bring. As a way of practicing presence, give your full attention to what you're doing at this moment, which is reading this blog. Now, simply be still and listen to the sounds of your breath. This is living with greater presence.

If you think that's too spiritual, too analytical or just nonsense — perhaps, you were simply looking for some practical tips — well then, I don't want to disappoint. The Alzheimer's Association website has some holiday tips for caregivers.

"The secret for health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly."
- Buddha

Nov. 29, 2011