‘See You Tomorrow.’

“But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.” – Still Alice

During my last year of undergrad, one of my favorite professors gave out an interesting assignment. She challenged us to volunteer somewhere that made us very uncomfortable. Admitting that she probably wouldn’t know if we were lying, she was trusting us to leave our comfort zones on our own accord. This is something I try to challenge myself to do on a regular basis. I’ve always believed that leaving the places I feel the safest will encourage me to be a stronger and more open-minded individual. If it’s at all possible to feel comfortable leaving a comfort zone, I do. So I knew that to truly fulfill this assignment, I would not only have to get out of my comfort zone, but also skip, jump and fly over it.

Of all the scary things in my life that I’ve done, walking in to volunteer at Cedar Ridge Alzheimer’s Center for the first time was amongst the most terrifying. It was not the people that scared me, but a disease so ferocious in its ability to completely take over a human mind. That first day, I hand-fed a grown woman while a resident on the other side of the room continuously moaned in what sounded like complete misery. I honestly felt that I might pass out. So taken aback by what I saw as such an overwhelming sadness, I felt my body reacting physically. I could not wait to get out of there that day.

cedarridge

It didn’t take much time until my required volunteer hours were completed, but then a funny thing happened. I began seeing less of the disease and more of the person behind it. Sometimes it was simply a smile or a sparkle in the eye. Other times it was a witty comment, small talk or reading a short bio outside of a resident’s door. What I had at first failed to acknowledge was that this disease was only a small chapter of the residents’ lives. In previous chapters there were careers, hobbies, families, passions, accomplishments and lives well lived. Dementia was only a small part of their stories. I began researching and reading about Alzheimer’s to have a better understanding of what those at Cedar Ridge were going through. And I kept going back.

It’d be a lie to say that I don’t still have to mentally prepare myself for hard moments. Residents often feel lost, or are searching for someone, or become upset because they want to go to a home that they don’t realize is no longer theirs. During my last visit, a woman I was chatting with asked me to read something for her because I had a “better brain.” I would imagine that the rare moments of lucidity are the most difficult part for those in later stages of Alzheimer’s. But in the midst of this constant confusion and heartbreak, there is also joy. I fair and square lost more than one game of dominoes to a sweet old soul. Cookies and warm conversation have been shared with a group of lovely ladies. I’ve read magazines, watched movies and listened to live music with some truly great company. One charming gentleman wandered around in search for his family, but still managed to smile and flirt whenever he passed my way. Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles be damned, it only took a bit of searching to see the beautiful hearts and terrific personalities I was surrounded by at Cedar Ridge.

After learning of my pregnancy, I went back to Cedar Ridge once more before realizing that I should take a break. Usually a person with a firm grip on emotions, my hormones were now causing me to cry at the drop of a hat. Knowing what both I and the residents could and couldn’t handle, I waited.

I went back for the first time last weekend. In the past, I’ve always wondered how much good I was really doing. Even if I was able to help in some miniscule way, wouldn’t it only be forgotten soon after? Did my being there for such a short time really help anyone at all? I wasn’t sure. As I was saying my goodbyes last Saturday, one woman stopped me with her words. “Don’t go.” she said, the kindest smile on her face. We embraced as she went to kiss my cheeks. And then, “See you tomorrow.”

I told her I would see her soon, and then I left. Maybe she forgot about me as soon as I walked out the door. But in those few moments, we were both able to make a positive mark in the other’s life. If only for a short time, we shared smiles and caused happiness. I knew that I would not see her the next day, and she might not have any recollection of telling me that she would. Still, we had today. And that was enough.

Love is a lot of things but it should not be Hurt.

“It is the way we used to talk–our between-the-lines language,seemingly nonsensical, but steeped in meaning. It is a way I’ve never talked to Andy–who is always so open, candid. I decide, for at least the hundredth time today, that one way isn’t better than the other, they are just different.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this love thing lately. Who we love, What we love about them, Why we love them, Where and why it goes down the drain…and most importantly, our ability to love in so many different levels and ways.

These thoughts sparked for a variety of reasons, one of the main being the book “Love the One You’re With” a friend let me borrow.  In the book, there is the boy that girl is newly married to–Andy. Happy,Cute,Simple, Safe, and Wonderful. Then you have Leo who is the infamous (du nuh nuhh) ex-boyfriend. Charming, Sexy,Witty,and the thing Butterflies in the stomach are made out of.  Girl is at a crossroads when ex comes back into her life and yadda yadda yadda. You get it.  I think what had me hooked was the fact that I think most of us girls have or had, at one point in our life, had a Leo. The guy who you makes you hold your breath and your head spin and fills up pages or even books of journals. I’ve had a Leo. I think most of us have also experienced our Andy. I also definitely married my Andy.  At a very early point in my relationship with my now husband, I was also put at a crossroads. Leo (we’ll call him that) tried talking to me more than once, obviously aware of the fact that I was (gasp) no longer pining over him.  I automatically go into ‘What if’  mode when thinking about what could have happened here.

I could have very easily talked back. I could have messed things up with my future husband, I could have easily gone back to a crazy and passionate and ridiculously indulgent affair, I could have further damaged relationships with both ‘Leo’s’ family and mine, I could have thrown all cares to the wind and just seen what would have happened.  I could have.  I didn’t. I never responded to him, and that was, as an understatement, not easy. After the relationship with the first dude you ever deeply cared for has only been over for a couple of months, definitely not easy.  But I didn’t. I didn’t because I think what I was finally learning was what this book points out in story version. Love is a lot of things, and what you experience with each person you’re with will be a different version, a different story every time.  There is no wrong or right way to love somebody, and it doesn’t have to be a passionate, fiery, I’m about to wet myself feeling every time. Sometimes it’s not supposed to feel that way and then, sometimes it is. I’ve experienced both, and though they both have their upsides, I prefer feeling happy and complete to feeling intensely forlorn all the time.

But I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is this: That even though love is not just one thing or one person or one feeling, there is one thing it should not ever be. It should not be hurt. But It does hurt and we,time and again, let it hurt us.  When we look for guys, ( & I know when I first started dating my husband) we usually think of words like ‘Simple’ and ‘Safe’ like they’re bad things. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that love should be a difficult, painful weight to bare; That we have to hurt to get anything good in the end.  It shouldn’t be and we shouldn’t have to.  Believe it or not, it’s actually okay to feel happy and good about yourself in a relationship.  There should not be intense pain involved because where the opposite of love is hate, the absence or removal of love is usually hurt.  Love obviously hurts when it is taken away from you, but if love is hurting when you’re still in a relationship, something isn’t right.  You should not hurt, He should not hurt, The people most important to the both of you should not be hurting.  Unless someone is dead or dying, True love should not hurt anyone, ever.

And so I walked away, for good. I said nothing. I made the best decision of my life. I made myself happy.I finally became closer to my family. I married a man who is my Andy–who is simple and happy and cute and wonderful; who keeps me safe and warm at night.  It’s a different kind of love than a Leo love, but it is just the same, Love. And it’s the best kind I’ve ever felt.