how the zen leader helped me deal with alzheimer’s
I have a dad who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Well, maybe this statement isn’t exactly right. He struggles and those around him suffer, is probably closer to the truth. As his condition deteriorates, I find myself becoming more and more an extension of himself, telling him where to put the garden gloves and how to find the cereal aisle. But the best lesson I learned in dealing with this dreaded disease came from a couple “flips” in consciousness I experienced, that I can attribute to my reading of The Zen Leader. I would like to share that experience with the hope of helping others who may be in a similar situation.
When dad was first diagnosed, the whole family, including me, flew into a panic. We cried, we worried, but our biggest fear of all is best summed up by that little inner voice that kept asking, “How am I going to HANDLE this?” Luckily, I had just read The Zen Leader and was able to stop myself from this perpetual downward spiral into helplessness and self pity. Here are the two lessons that changed things for me.
Lesson Number One: BE PRESENT
I do not live with my father, so when I arrived for a visit, it was typical for me to spend an inordinate amount of time doing some sort of mental assessment of where he was compared to our last visit and if he had slipped further. This did two things: it turned me into an inquisitor – probing, questioning and making my mental assessment, but worst of all, it robbed me of the precious time I had with this fine man. I don’t do that anymore.
Chapter 1 of The Zen Leader takes us From Coping to Transforming. I found this particularly beneficial in my current situation. I stopped looking for further signs of deterioration and started just being present and with him. Telling him about my day, my week, my life. Talking about my golf game and maybe taking him to the range to hit a bucket of balls (he loves golf) or outside in the yard gardening and watering plants. I realized that my constant forecasting of what’s to come was holding my fear in the present. What I found was, by just being present in the moment, I can enjoy him in some of the same ways I always had – right then, right now. The man I have loved my entire life is still in that body. Would I feel any different toward him if he lost an arm or a leg? Losing part of his mental capacity is no different. I can still love him and cherish him as I had before. I just don’t ask him what he did yesterday:-)
Lesson Number Two: SEE THE BIG PICTURE
I am not the only one directly affected by my dad’s dementia. My mom, my brother, my sister, my children, friends and all respective family members are all dealing with this in their own way. When I read Chapter 9 of The Zen Leader, From Local Self to Whole Self, this all came together for me.
There is a little exercise where you map out all the people who can even remotely be part of this big picture and then role play and see what their needs are in the situation. By “casting a wider net,” you are able to see how you can fulfill other’s needs and bring more players together in harmony to address a current problem. I know this was written for leaders, but it works in this situation, too. I was able to see my mother’s extreme fear and hear her “I can’t do this” voice. I was able to feel my siblings’ fear (who live in different states) of being hopelessly afar and helpless. I was able to sense the uncomfortable feelings their best friends now felt in being around them. Once I saw this, my “plan of attack” became pretty clear to me.
My mom desperately needed to feel that she wasn’t alone. I now do whatever I can to help reduce this fear. I talk and listen. I take dad out of the house for awhile. I stay overnight on occasion. I have secured an outside firm to do twice weekly visits, as a starting point for their future needs. I’ve seen a dramatic shift in her – not just in her own happiness and state of mind but in how she interacts with my father. Consciously or unconsciously, she has decided to join the team 🙂
I also now send email updates to my siblings every visit I have. Sometimes it’s just reporting. Sometimes we discuss ideas. It keeps them in the loop and being part of the larger picture. I can’t express enough the value in having us all working together as a unified team.
I know The Zen Leader was written as a leadership book, but the lessons inside can be applied for all aspects of life in general. For a glimpse, here’s a link to Chapter 1 of the book. I expect it will bring great value to you as it did to me.