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How Love Can Break Through the Darkness of Dementia

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I remember being a kid at the beach and using my, oh so cool yellow Hawaiian Punch Guy raft to surf the waves. After a few times of riding those waves right onto the sand effortlessly, I felt so in control, like I had mastered the ocean, then a wave too big for me to maneuver took me under reminding me that I was no where near in control of this humongous, unpredictable body of water. After the big wave showed me who was boss, I can still very distinctly remember how terrified and out of control I felt as the waves tossed and turned me into the surf disorienting me to the point that I didn’t know if I was swimming to the surface of the water or swimming deeper towards the ocean floor. And then, after one more wave pounded me into the sand, I remember seeing the sunlight through the water guiding me to the surface and when I finally broke through the surface and dragged my sand filled self to the shore, I saw my dad laughing, clearly unaware of how convinced I was that I nearly drowned. I never used that damn raft again.

I imagine that for individuals with dementia, it must feel much like being tossed in the surf by a big, unpredictable ocean current, fighting to stay afloat while those on the shore watching from a distance have no idea the strength of the undertow that is pulling their loved one further away from the safety of the shore. Feeling somewhat in control one minute then, with very little warning, the undertow pulls the person with dementia into obscurity while they struggle to find a way to the surface where things feel safe and familiar, without being sucked deeper into the darkness that hovers right below the surface always beckoning and pulling them away from the sunlight.

I would like to think that just like the sunlight that guided me from the darkness of the water all those years ago, love breaks through the surface helping to orient someone with dementia to a place of safety and familiarity. I have to believe that there is some truth to this because there is such despair watching someone you love lose parts of who they were as they furiously fight the waves trying to stay afloat, their loved ones watching helplessly from the shore, feeling as disoriented and scared as I did all those years ago while trying not to let the darkness drown them too.

Yesterday, there were moments of glorious sunlight and moments of deep, terrible darkness, but love, like sunlight, broke through the surface keeping us all afloat. I am so very grateful for the light and the love that still can pull us from the darkness and for my sisters who are on this raft with me.

Image via contributor

Originally published: January 13, 2023
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