One of my favorite presents this Christmas was a five-class card for a local yoga studio, given to me by my darling husband, who pays very close attention to what I say starting November 1st and always gives me exactly what I want. (Got that? Amazing, right?)
So yesterday I used the card to take a hot yoga class. The room was packed with sweating bodies, all moving in unison to the instructor’s calm voice. Her theme throughout the 75-minute session was acceptance, followed by effort: accept your body as it is, and then make the effort to take it farther, but only as far as it will go today.
I heard the word “acceptance” over and over as I stretched and moved and sweated and stopped for water. I had no trouble accepting my physical limitations; that was easy, because I knew what they would be. (I have been doing yoga within my limits for a long time.) But the word wormed its way into my head and applied itself to my relationship with my mother . . . as all things do at this bittersweet time of her life.
The hardest part of dealing with dementia is acceptance. In my head, I know that this is my mother’s condition and that it will only get worse. But my heart is silently screaming NO. No, no, no, no, no.
Effort is easier. I spend a lot of time figuring out what I can do to make her life (and by extension, my life) more bearable. I read books on dementia care and apply the principles in them to the best of my ability. I try to anticipate her needs. I visit her six days a week and take her out to do things I think she can still enjoy.
Lest you brand me a saint, bear in mind that I have a lot of help. My mom can afford assisted living so she doesn’t have to live with me; my sister, brother, and cousin are deeply involved in her care; and I have that amazing husband (see paragraph one).
Still. I get caught up in effort, because acceptance is just so hard. How can I accept that my brilliant mother, the scientist, the math teacher, the violinist, the seamstress and baker and dancer and civic leader and sweetest off-key-bedtime-lullaby-singer in the whole wide world is losing her mind? How can I accept her suffering?
I don’t have an answer for that. It just seems like the right question. I’m curious about the concept of acceptance before effort. I wonder what would happen if I could accept everything about this painful situation, just as it is, before taking one more step to improve it. I may never find out. But I wonder.