In the past few years, I have discovered Mindfulness as a part of my spiritual practice. It was shocking to realize that for most of my life, even in the midst of prayer, my mind was often racing with tangential thoughts, worries, or distractions. Learning to be fully present has taken time, and honestly, I cannot yet say that I have mastered the practice. But even as a beginner, Mindfulness and meditation practices have deepened and enriched my prayer life along with my awareness of who I am and of the world around me.
I also believe that growing more mindful and present has enriched visits or calls with mom. Sadly, COVID realities have greatly limited our in-person visits. For a while we were able to sit together outdoors on the porch at the assisted living facility where she lives. We chose the rocking chairs that look out over the field across the street. The field is home to a new subdivision that is currently being developed. This gives us a lot to look it: tall grasses swaying in the wind, construction workers hammering nails, buzzards gliding low enough to see what might be lying beside the road or in the field. I drive past this scene frequently, but all that I ever notice is a major change like a new home being added or a new road being cleared. When I sit with mom and we look out across the field, I notice the way the sunlight dances on the grasses, the rhythm of a workman’s hammer, the graceful flight of a bird whose very presence and purpose in the food chain often makes me shiver. I notice mostly because Mom notices.
“Look at how that… that plant… that dry… the um…”
“The tall grasses?”
“Yeah, look at how the tall grasses are dancing!”
“They are beautiful. It’s like they hear music.”
Mom starts to hum a made up song.
I laugh with her.
“That clicking fits our song.”
“It’s a man hammering. He’s working on that new house just over there. Do you see it… the one with the blue plastic all around it?
“Is that an eagle?”
“I think it’s a buzzard. But I don’t know for sure.”
“Don’t you wish you could fly?”
“That would be so neat!”
“Look at how the plants bend, the brown grass. It looks like it’s dancing.”
“It does. It’s really pretty.”
“That bird looks like he’s dancing with it.”
“He does, he’s a good dancer.”
“Where am I? What is this place?”
“This is home now, mom. This is home.”
“Ok, if you say so. Is that a new house over there?”
“Yes, it’s a new house being built.”
“Maybe we should buy it?”
“Look at that bird, how big it is…”
Sitting and talking with mom is not the same as listening to a Zen master lead a Mindfulness Meditation on YouTube. And yet… if my mind tries to wander and focus on my grocery list, on deadlines at work that I need to meet, on my phone vibrating with alerts from Facebook or Gmail or some other app… mom brings me back to the present.
Sure, sometimes we talk about her childhood in Cairo, Georgia. Sometimes we remember significant people or events from 20 or 30 years ago. But mostly, these days we live in the moment.
Don’t hear me wrong. I don’t pretend that living with dementia is the same as a deep and abiding Mindfulness meditation. It’s not. Dementia brings many painful losses. Mindfulness is a choice and a practice chosen by the practitioner, whereas dementia is a medical condition currently without an effective treatment. Mom and the other folks at the assisted living home where she lives are not peacefully and tranquilly journeying through each day, content with their awareness of the moment. Sometimes they are afraid, agitated, confused, sad. And yet… so often it seems that mom, at least with our particular form of dementia at her current stage, is present here and now.
When dementia calls my name, I hope my appreciation for Mindfulness will sustain and even fill me with peace and purpose. Sure, I may forget the facts and information I once knew. Yes, I will lose cherished personal memories and recollections. But I hope that there will be a field for me to gaze upon, or the rhythm of a hammer to hear, or the silhouette of a bird soaring in the sky, something for me to notice and to marvel at.
Simply being is a gift. Each sight, each sound, each texture… these are gifts while we are yet alive. If I forget this, please remind me. Point to the dancing grass and invite me to sway along with it. Tap to the rhythm of the hammer. Follow the gentle flight of the bird and imagine riding upon his wings. I hope you have grasses and hammers and large soaring birds in your days too. And may they not be background scenery and white noise but a gift that you notice and appreciate. May we all be present and mindful as we enjoy the gift of life.
3 thoughts on “Mindfulness & Dementia”
I paused several times while reading this blog to look out the window at the branches covered with snow and ice. They are moving more like boxers doing warm-up steps than dancers. Your description of the swaying dance of tall grass was soothing. So many different kinds of motion and commotion surround us. Your blog thoughts, observations, conversation with your mom, and reminder, “May we all be present and mindful as we enjoy the gift of life,” is a message needed today and every day. Thank you. Virginia
Kendra, this was sublime. Thank you.
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I have had similar conversations with my mom. I need to learn to embrace them more, and maybe even instigate one or two. 🙂