March 9, 2016

The Heartbreak of Dementia: Finding Gratitude in Grief.

Neill Kumar/Unsplash

I’m the type of person who can usually find the silver lining of just about anything.

I’m someone who is in love with life and the endless adventure that comes along with it. I believe in the power of gratitude, as the key to access joy in any situation.

However, I have found myself struggling with this recently.

My family has been thrust into a complex journey that has us all a little stunned. My grandfather has dementia and it has suddenly turned very severe. Those words seem so easy to say. Dementia is an issue I have dealt with countless times in my professional life. But now that it is happening to someone I adore, words don’t even begin to touch the heart ache that this brings.

I find myself suddenly plunged into an unexpected sense of grief. It’s a topsy turvey world of mixed up emotions, grieving for someone who is still here. It’s a sort of loss in slow motion…like a bandaid being ripped off a wound ever so slowly.

Each time I visit, I search his eyes…searching, searching, searching for little bits of him that may be left, searching for something I can grasp onto for dear life. Sometimes I find what I am looking for. Sometimes I just don’t and I can only find fear and confusion in his eyes.

But I have also been searching within myself. I search for answers. I search for meaning behind my sadness and anger and heartbreak. I search for acceptance. I search for gratitude. And in my search for these things, here is what I have uncovered.

I’ve found that underneath the grief, there is a indescribable presence of love. It’s in the stillness that lies beneath the chaos. It can be found in the tiniest moments of peace.

At one of my recent visits, my Grandpa asked me to come close to him. He looked directly at me and for just a minute his thoughts seemed clear. He said, “Honey, I don’t think I am going to be here much longer. But I want you to know I love you with all my heart. And I know you love me.”

In that moment, my heart both broke and expanded with tremendous gratitude. It was a precious gift he gave to me that day, a treasure I will hold onto forever. I felt connected to him in a way that cannot be broken, and I like to think that he felt it too.

The crazy thing about grief is that it cannot exist without love.

We could go to great lengths to avoid or numb the pain of loss. But I think we might miss out on something. As Brene Brown said, “When we numb the darkness we numb the light.” So I will choose to risk feeling it all….the hurt, the anger, the fear. Because deep within there is an undercurrent of a beautiful love, which somehow surpasses the ache of loss.

And just maybe between our tears we can find some glimmers of joy…And in that we can find gratitude.


Author: Sarah Powers

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Neill Kumar/Unsplash

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Sarah Powers