Sherry Young: Life is what we make it, not what's given

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 9:14 p.m. MDT

On the morning I finished Lisa Genova's Still Alice, the poignantly written book about Alzheimer's, I opened up an email from a writer friend, Jeff Benedict, to see his tribute to a dear friend's daughter who apparently could not face her life any longer. All I could think was how many ways life can suddenly become sad and scary.

Being alive and having a working body that can facilitate the mind's direction is always a wonder. Likewise having a healthy mind that can tell the body the right things to do is beyond happiness.

To be able to think and read a book, hug those we love by telling our arms to reach out and squeeze or watch an opponent serve a tennis ball and be able to move our body and be able to hit it back is something we daily take for granted. It isn't until we get broken that we look back with such gratitude that we were once able to do them.

How very hard and sad it would be to face a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's or be so depressed we take our life.

In Still Alice, at one point Alice is able to voice this sadness, "Being diagnosed with Alzheimer's is like being branded with a scarlet A. This is now who I am, someone with dementia. This was how I would, for a time, define myself and how others continue to define me. But I am not what I say or what I do or what I remember. I am fundamentally more than that.

"I am a wife, mother, and friend, and soon to be grandmother. I still feel, understand, and am worthy of the love and joy in those relationships. I am still an active participant in society. My brain no longer works well, but I use my ears for unconditional listening, my shoulders for crying on, and my arms for hugging others with dementia."

That book was a course in caring about others 101.

In the case of Jeff's friend, he wasn't given that chance because suicide is so final. Jeff wrote, "Under these circumstances no one knows what to say to the surviving family members. Meantime, family members can't help blaming themselves.

But the people I know who have gone through this nightmare were there and had done more than can be humanely expected. Then they end up living with the stigma."

Another redeeming tale of devastating loss is the book by Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here. I like the quote on the book jacket by author Lee Woodruff, "For anyone who wonders how they will come through a difficult time, Heaven Is Here proves that human beings are built to survive. "

In the epilogue of her book Nielson sums up how she survived, "At first I thought stubbornly that the only thing that would make me happy was for life to look like it did before the accident. But no one could give that to me, and no one else could make me happy. As I gradually accepted my responsibility to choose happiness every day, I rediscovered the beautiful life I had always wanted, but the amazing thing is the more I make the choice to see and feel joy, the more joy there is to see and to feel."

Most likely easier said than done, but good advice nonetheless.

Email: sasyoung2@aol.com

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