Finding Gratitude in the Face of a Devastating Illness

Caregiver, patient expert

Most of us have a hard time finding gratitude in the midst of trouble. That's human. However, I believe in my heart, that gratitude, when sought, can improve our own quality of life whatever the circumstances we are facing.

Thanksgiving, a holiday many of us celebrate even if it's by watching a football game and eating too much, is supposed to be a time to reflect upon our blessings. But I've seen some people forget that they have multiple blessings just because "their" team lost the Thanksgiving Day game.

While that's a rather silly example of our human ignorance of the range of things we have to be grateful for, it's true that many of us fail to pause and reflect on the good we have in our lives.

Those of us who have watched loved ones suffer with dementia, while we wear ourselves out trying to care for them, may have to stretch a bit to remember that even our families have much to be grateful for.

A regular reader, Bob Tolbert, who has contributed some caregiving tips to articles, and whose musings appeared here on in Man's Love Letter to His Alzheimer's Stricken Wife, sent an e-mail last week about his gratitude. I wanted to share this note with you (with his permission), because it comes from the heart of an Alzheimer's caregiver.

Bob wrote:

"There are so many people out there who have it so much worse... I'll forever think of them if I ever start feeling sorry for myself. I am so thankful that (1) Jane's  Alzheimer's was not early onset. We had those first 16 years in retirement of carefree world travel. Loving each other every step of the way. And (2) my family and our friends are so completely supportive. (3) I "discovered" my Jennifer (his in-home health aide) and have the necessary insurance and financial backing to have her come help three afternoons a week. And finally, (4) when it is obvious that Jane's innate nature is to love and be loved, it is so easy to do the little things that need to be done. Just being able to always keep a fresh bunch of flowers for her to enjoy, for example, is a privilege many simply could not provide. I have truly been blessed.

Thanks for sharing your take on gratitude, Bob. We value your wisdom.

Two decades of caring

My own elder care journey totaled seven elders over the span of two decades. Four of my loved ones had dementia. Was I grateful every minute of every day for all of these caregiving roles? Of course not. I was tired a lot. I had moments of self-pity. I am human. However, for the most part, I did consider it an honor to usher my elders through their last years, and for the most part I could find grateful feelings in that.

Looking back, I see how my decades of caregiving lit a fire in my soul that would drive me to try to help other caregivers. My years of giving care translated into a passion to help other caregivers find resources and support for their journey. If any of my articles, stories,  answers to direct questions, radio interviews ,or my book, have helped just a few caregivers, then I have much to be grateful for.

Obviously, I have many other blessings, including two grown sons and the love of a wonderful man who supports my work.

Like all of you, life has thrown many challenges my way. I've found that the best way for me to keep everything in perspective is to look for whatever I can find in any given day to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, even as you struggle to cope with unthinkable losses. You aren't alone. Just that small bit of knowledge can sometimes help us find a touch of gratitude.