Three Little Birds

September 7, 2011

Sometimes, every little thing is gonna be alright.  Sometimes it isn’t.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be at Lake Sunapee with extended family after a hike with my brother and his girlfriend on Franconia Ridge (a very strenuous but fabulous hike).  One of the people who was there was my cousin’s mother-in-law who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

She has developed some depth perception issues over the past couple of years and fell off of the dock into four feet of water on Sunday afternoon.  She wasn’t hurt, and two hours later, when another family member exclaimed, “Oh good! You’re all dried up!” (a faux pas I’ll be sure to write more about in a different post) she was confused about what this person was talking about and thought she was insulting her.  She had forgotten all about it, but my cousin and everyone else hadn’t.

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At one point, someone told my cousin, who at that point was frazzled and tense “everything’s going to be alright.”  She responded by saying, “no, everything’s not going to be alright.”  She’s right.  What we all know about Alzheimer’s, particularly EOAD, and what that diagnosis means, is that things are decidedly NOT going to be alright.  I told her a minute later, “everything’s not going to be alright, but…” and then she thanked me and finished my sentence by saying, “but it is what it is.”  Which is the truth.  My mom said to me once, “You know, no one ever promised us that life would be easy,” and that’s changed how I see the world in a lot of ways, though I wish it wasn’t true sometimes.  We do what we can with the cards we’ve been dealt, and sometimes it’s not easy.

When it’s not easy, though, and when things are horrible and frustrating and depressing and uncertain, we want to be validated.  We want people to say things like: “I know, it really sucks,” “I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” and “If you need to talk, you know I’m here for you.”

This type of validation is useful in my work in the psych setting.  When I ask people how they’re feeling, I’m not looking for them to say, “Fine, how are you?”  I expect that they’ll be honest, and when they tell me that they’re feeling confused and angry, I don’t say, “everything’s going to be alright…” followed by a rousing chorus of “I Can See Clearly Now.”  I validate what they’re feeling and find out how I can help them in reaching their goals.

Maybe that’s why my cousin thanked me for agreeing with her.  She didn’t need to hear that things were going to be fine.  She has no way of knowing that and no reason right now to believe it.  What she does know, is that at the moment it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight, and in caring for kids who are 7 and 4, as well as a declining family member, she is clearly overwhelmed.  Every little thing isn’t alright.  Right now.  With any luck though, maybe it’ll be more alright than she thinks somewhere down the road.

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