Meeting Carol

One morning, when I stopped by the independent living facility where my mother-in-law resides, Carol met me at the door, her eyes sparkling.

After giving me a hug and leading me inside, she declared, “This is a banner day for me.”

“Is that right?” I asked as I mentally scrolled through the possibilities of why today was more special than yesterday.

“Well,” she said, taking a seat. “Last night I graduated from high school!”


I could have searched my brain all day and not come up with that one. “Okay,” I said carefully. “Congratulation?”

“Thank you!” She was almost giddy with excitement. “I feel such relief. You know, today is the first day in thirteen years that I don’t have to get up and go to school. It is so freeing!”

“I bet,” I answered brightly, her enthusiasm infectious.

She paused and looked at me carefully, taking in the crow’s feet around my eyes and the subtle yet stubborn gray highlights in my hair. “Well, I guess you would know what it feels like since you have obviously been out of school for a loooooong time.” She spoke with just the right mixture of adolescent disdain and pity.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Not that Alzheimer’s is a laughing matter. It is a heartbreaking disease, a devastating disease on many levels, but this was a good day. This was a day, in Carol’s mind at least, to celebrate. She was young again, even her body language was more girlish, and we had a nice visit, riding the happiness of where she was in space and time. And then I left, knowing full well that tomorrow when I stopped by, things would be completely different.


But that is okay, because this is Carol’s gift to me. One that I unwrap before each visit as I sit in my car and remind myself to meet Carol where she is. Regardless of whether it is the present moment or Easter (Easter comes up often on the calendar year for Carol and me) or one of those difficult days when she is restless and agitated and just wants to go “home.”

It took me several months and a lot of research about Alzheimer’s to get to this place with Carol—to stop trying to correct her confusion, and to learn to contain my own anguish about the deterioration of her mental processes. When I started practicing accepting Carol as is, life became much easier for us both. By removing the resistance, she and I can find a peace of sorts with each other and with her disease—even on the really hard days.

holding hands

It took a lot longer for me to realize that what Carol was teaching me could also be applied to my daily life. As much as we try to control our day-to-day existence, life can be quite a labyrinth at times. Motivational speaker Wayne Dyer said, “Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” Although it is human nature to resist the unexpected (or at least it is MY human nature to wholeheartedly resist the unexpected), there is no peace to be found in pushing back. As the saying goes, “What you resist, persists.”

So these days, under Carol’s tutelage, I am trying to learn to find peace and safety in what is. To accept the unexpected and the unplanned. To celebrate the roller coaster of uncertainty.  Some days my attempt to meet life as it is goes better than others. When I find myself flailing, I know that it has been too long since I visited my mother-in-law. So I run by the bakery and pick up a couple of glazed old-fashioned donuts and point my car to the east side of town. I know that when Carol opens the door, she will remind me of exactly where we need to be.

About flyingnotscreaming

My weekly quotes and "Notes from Flights" are my attempt to learn how to soar through life's unknowns with grace and gratitude. Thank you for flying with me. --Melissa Myers Place, writer, reader, massage therapist, mother, wife, and daughter
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9 Responses to Meeting Carol

  1. Donna grauer says:

    beautiful post and love the way you segued it
    Away from just dementia t
    I plan on sharing with my daughter Marisa
    Who in a former life worked in an Alzheimer care unit

  2. Mary Hirsch says:

    Lovely, Melissa. This is just beautiful and generous, another reminder of what a giving and supportive woman you are. I am grateful always for the daughter you are but especially so during this, your birthday week. I look forward to celebrating that with you soon. Keep writing. Mom

  3. Candy says:

    This post is something I want to go back to every day…it is so hard to accept what is….and not what I think it should be….and it gives me strength to have an open mind with my aging mom…nlw 91! Thanks so much for sharing Melissa!

  4. Linda says:

    Beautifully written and heartfelt.

  5. Jillene Freis says:

    This is so touching and so true!
    Thanks for writing again.

  6. Carrie says:

    I am so glad you are in my life. The wisdom you glean and share helps me so much. I too will meet life everyday where it find it.

  7. Lynn Burgoyne says:

    Your inspirational words will help many. Thank you for the gift of you….

  8. Gayle says:

    Missy, it is nice to see that you are writing again! This is a lovely blog and you are so “right on”!

  9. Ruth Frey says:

    I wish I had your words to guide me when my own mother was suffering from dementia. But your wisdom does indeed to apply to everyday life and is a reminder that we are powerless to exert control over everything that touches us. Letting go of our self-imposed need to control can deliver a refreshing freedom and awaken a sensitivity to the other lives all around us. Keep writing, please.

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