Last weekend I took a trip out to southern California to see some of my family. Most of my Mom’s side of the family lives out there: aunts, uncles and cousins along with my grandma.
I’ve always looked forward to these trips. We would go every other year growing up since traveling as a family of 6 can be expensive (especially when your parents did not know the perks of travel hacking!)
This was important to my Mom, as living across the country can make it easy to lose touch with everyone.
Aside from one trip, all have been one of those trips you look forward to for weeks. It was vacation; a time to relax, unwind and soak up the inevitable year round sunshine (seriously miss that).
While there was certainly some of that this weekend, this trip felt different.
Perhaps it was because it was my first trip out there since moving from the state a little over two years ago. Or maybe because it was the first time I’d ever paid for my own plane ticket out there.
While those are both true, there’s likely a different reason the trip felt different:
My grandma had a tough time remembering who I am.
To be fair, going into the trip I knew there was a high likelihood of this happening, as I noted in my last monthly update, so it wasn’t a complete shock.
Even though I thought I was prepared for it, that doesn’t mean it was any easier to experience.
It’s an awful, sad thing to see someone you know and love suffer from dementia.
The disease robs a person of their memories, and can turn someone you know and love into a completely different person.
Where my grandma was once outgoing, confident, and the sweetest, kindest person you’ve ever met, the person I saw last weekend was greatly changed.
When I first saw her, it was really tough to tell if she had even recognized me. I thought I may have seen a glint in her eye that showed she did, but perhaps I was just imagining it as that was what I hoped.
My Aunt who visits her almost daily, had to remind her I was her grandson at which she perked up and became her cheery self.
The rest of the weekend was tough to watch at times. She was very quiet and shy around big crowds (like when we went out to eat) as it was tough for her to follow along with the conversations.
When I was able to speak one on one with her, it was tough for her to remember recent things she had done, so she tended to say the same things several times.
She would also grow frustrated and get visibly upset when certain things were brought up that happened in the past that she did not remember correctly.
I’ve never seen this out of my grandma and it was difficult to watch.
It would be one thing if this was the first time I’ve experienced this before. Alas, that is not the case.
About 9 years ago, when I was in high school, my grandfather passed away after suffering through a severe case of dementia as well.
While my Aunt mentioned that my grandma’s dementia has been gradual, from what I remember, my grandfather’s was much more rapid. He went from being a normal, functioning person, to completely dependent on others in a short amount of time.
Before he passed away, he barely resembled the strong, proud man I once knew. He could not even recognize his own children.
Going through this not once, but twice, has been an eye opening experience. Seeing the effects firsthand is scary, and something I would not wish on anyone.
It also got me thinking, what if in the future this happened to my own parents? Or maybe a future spouse? Or even myself?
I was filled with instant terror.
I’m extremely close with my parents, and to even imagine a day when they would still be here, but unable to recognize me is something along the lines of “worst nightmare” scenarios.
Even for myself, I can only imagine how frustrating and terrible dealing with the disease would be firsthand. I take pride in how I can usually remember events or things pretty well. To slowly and completely lose that ability would be maddening.
As some forms of dementia/Alzheimer’s can run in the family, there is a very real chance that my parents or I could get this in the future.
There’s Only So Much You Can Control
Given all this, it would be very easy for me to succumb to worrying about my grandma not remembering me and these potential future scenarios.
Worrying leads to stress, and stress can be a major factor of what brings on the disease in the first place.
The events of this weekend were a good reminder to take a step back, remove myself and the emotion of the situation, and take an objective look at it.
How much of the situation can I control?
In the case of my grandma, not much, if anything. The disease has already began, and there is no cure as of now.
As for any of those future scenarios, I can’t necessarily control all of it, but some of it I can influence.
For instance, dementia can be brought on by a poor diet, lack of exercise, and cardiovascular issues. For my parents, I can encourage them to eat healthy and get regular exercise, knowing that they are getting older and this could help to combat the onset of the disease.
While I recognize I can’t make them exercise, I can be the annoying gnat (in a loving way) always giving them a reminder to be active.
As for myself, I cannot control my aging and family genetics, but I have even more control over my diet and exercise. I noted in my goals update and recognize that the latter half of this year I have not been as consistent as I’d like to be.
Coming to this realization that I may be of higher risk of this disease in the future has left me more energized and motivated than I have in a long time to get back to hitting the gym regularly.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
How much of the situation can I control?
This thought can be good to have for any situation in which you may be worrying or stressed.
Job related, politics, family, relationships, etc, if you have no control over the situation, why stress about it?
Sure, it sounds super easy to say and write down, but in reality, it’s really, really hard.
I struggle with this all the time, and trying to find the balance of how much you actually control over a situation is a lot tougher in some cases.
One tip that occasionally helps me: having a plan in place in case the worst case fear of the situation you can’t control does inevitably take place.
Knowing that I have a fallback usually gives me peace of mind, knowing that although I can’t control a situation, I’m prepared for the worst case outcome.
This will likely always be a constant battle. The sooner you can recognize you have little to no control over a situation the better.
It’s the moment you should release the stress and move your thoughts to situations you can control.
What are your thoughts on dealing with situations you can’t control? What are your favorite tips to combat situations you can’t control? Let me know in the comments!