Life, Changes, and Family
By: Michelle Remold
We all know life is one big learning experience. As I was preparing to write this post, I sat down and re-read the papers I wrote in college for my “Perspectives on Death and Dying” class. While sifting through papers I came across the paper I wrote after reading The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In this paper we had to pick a quote from the book that stood out to us and state why. The quote I chose was from page 18 and it was: “Life is like going to school. You are given many lessons. The more you learn, the harder the lessons get.” This quote spoke volumes to me last week when I read it, the same way it did back when I read it for the first time.
As kids we are sometimes blissfully unaware of the things that are happening around us. However, as we grow up we start to learn lessons that shape who we will become and everyone experiences something different. My first “lesson” I learned was Alzheimer’s. Being young when my grandpa was diagnosed, I didn’t understand the disease. I just knew that I wanted to connect with my grandpa and I would eventually, as I got older, educate myself as much as I could on the disease.
The “lesson” that followed Alzheimer’s was change, which can be a hard lesson to learn. Everything changes, it doesn’t stay the same. Alzheimer’s has a way of progressing in ways you never imagined. Growing up, I knew Alzheimer’s was changing my grandpa, but everything else appeared to remain static. Suddenly you realize that things aren’t actually static and you wonder how you missed all the changes that were happening. People moving, getting married, hitting life milestones, and then you realize that you are not the only one getting older, everyone else is too which leads to the ultimate change in life, the death of a loved one. Death….it is the hardest lesson I have learned to date. I still remember the first death that truly had an impact on me like it was yesterday. It changed me, it changed my life, and it taught me a lesson I needed to learn. My grandpa’s death was the second close death I experienced. Through this I learned that while Alzheimer’s had robbed me of a grandfather growing up, it taught me so much more. Most of all it taught me love, compassion, and understanding in a capacity that I believe was greater than anything else I could have faced growing up.
Now I will touch on the third part of the title, family. I have written before about how important my family is to me. My immediate family is very small, but I have a very large extended family. My extended family is a family I am beyond grateful to have. A lesson that many people learn at some point is the importance of family and for me it has always been important. Growing up I was one of the few kids in my class who had a great-grandma and many great-aunts and uncles, I felt lucky because I had these people in my life. Fast-forward a few years and my dad’s mom now has dementia. Dementia has impacted my life once again. At some point last year it hit me that once my grandma passed away; my great-aunt will be her only living sibling. I realized that I needed to make more of an effort to visit her and her family; to make my own memories with them. I have now been to Iowa to visit them six times in the last ten months. It is time that I have come to cherish and made me realize I needed and still need to spend with them.
Truthfully, I started writing this post over a week ago and it really made me think, especially after one of my cousins passed away. This family was the same family who rallied around us when my grandma passed away in January and I watched it happen again this past week. While saying good-bye to someone you love is tough and heart wrenching, it also made my heart smile seeing the amount of love they all have for each other. Another example to me of why family is important.
Alzheimer’s brought a change into my life that I never would have expected, not only once, but twice. It helped me become the person I am today in ways that I can’t begin to describe. Change is inevitable; it might not always be wanted, but we often learn from it. As I wrote at the end of my paper, “We can take away from each experience what we are supposed to or we can decide to not accept it and miss out on what might be one of the biggest lessons we learn.” I definitely want to take away from each experience as much as I can.
So I want to thank Alzheimer’s for teaching me some of life’s toughest lessons on a larger scale; thank my family for being there through every change life has thrown my way and for being my support system as I chase my dream of helping those impacted by Alzheimer’s; and finally I want to thank anyone else who has been in my life and who has helped shape who I am today. As Flavia Weedn said, “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” Whether it has been people or a disease like Alzheimer’s, everyone and everything has some impact on our lives and for those impacts on my life, I am truly thankful.
Michelle graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with her Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology: Social Sciences and a minor in Family Studies. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Social Work with an emphasis in Aging from Minnesota State University Mankato.