One of Randy Pausch's Legacies: A Meaningful Lesson for Caregivers
It's with great sorrow that I write this blog about the death of Dr. Randy Pausch. I had the opportunity to hear him give his famous "Last Lecture" on a recent Oprah show that focused on dying. I really appreciated his message and wanted to put it in perspective for me and other caregivers who are taking care of someone with Alzheimer's disease.
Unfortunately, when he gave this last lecture, Mom was in the last stages of Alzheimer's and wouldn't have understood his comments. But perhaps Randy's message wasn't for her and others who are too far gone mentally due to Alzheimer's. Instead, maybe his comments can leave a mark on those of us who are caregivers, but who also have a life in front of us after caregiving.
"We can't change the cards that we're deal, just how we play the land," Randy said in that lecture. That's especially true for a caregiver who is taking care of someone with dementia. We can't change the diagnosis. We can't return to the time before Alzheimer's when our loved one could do anything. Yes, it's a downward spiral for them. That's the card they've been dealt, and as a caregiver, you are playing a part in that hand as well. Accept it, deal with it, and find a way to separate yourself enough with your loved one's fate so that you can make informed decisions as the disease takes over.
Another part of his message: "Brick walls let us show our dedication." The biggest brick wall I faced in my life was dealing with Mom's Alzheimer's. I could have walked away, but instead I walked into the middle of caregiving. That's a huge wall in one's life, especially when you've been focused on professional success for so long and assumed that family issues would just take care of themselves. I had to figure out how to deal with the wall, which seemed to loom higher when Mom threw a tantrum worthy of a 2-year-old or (even worse) when she forgot who I was. Yet Randy noted, "They (walls) are there to separate us from the people who don't really want to achieve their dreams. Don't bail. The best of the gold's at the bottom of barrels of crap." Almost a year after Mom died, I can say that I have found the gold that came from caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's - I'm a much better person, much more compassionate, much more present, and much more in touch with humanity.
Randy also talked about choosing between being Tigger or Eyeore. As a caregiver, it's very easy to become an Eyeore, moaning about what the fates have thrown in your way and bringing everyone else down. But I'd suggest that, for the good of your loved one as well as yourself, you should adopt the philosophy of Tigger - to be optimistic, energetic and have fun. Yes, I know that's easier said than done often when you are a caregiver. But by being appreciative of your blessings, whether it's the family members or friends who are ready to step in to help or whether it's a lone dragonfly that captures your attention as you drive to the nursing home, you can tap into your inner Tigger. Your attitude may influence your loved one with Alzheimer's, but more importantly, it will ease some of the stress that you are under as a caretaker.
Yes, Randy Paush's message in that Last Lecture strikes a cord for me...and it should strike one in you as a caregiver. By embracing his advice, you'll find that your choices in caregiving will be informed and your life after caregiving can become joyful. My condolences go to his family, but I also want to thank them so much for sharing Randy and his message with all of us.