Posts Tagged ‘alone’

Uncommon Grief – Reflections on Navigating the Alzheimer’s Journey with a Parent

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

thelonggoodbye

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. As is common, the course of his disease has been slow and cruel and we have come full circle—our roles of parent and child reversed. Once a social, vigorous, active man who owned a thriving business and loved to ballroom dance, water ski, and navigate the waters in his boat, today my father is wheelchair bound with very limited mobility and extreme cognitive deficits.

My dad does not meet the criteria for what we psychotherapists call “orientation times 3.” Time and space have retreated to a distant place in his mind of diminishing memory and awareness. What he still hangs on to is his identity. He knows his name. Gone is the time when he could say my name and call me his daughter. Yet, today he recognizes still that I’m someone special—it is in his eyes, his smile, and the way he kisses my hand when he sees me.

Losing one’s parent little by little to the disease of Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, is a harsh and life-changing experience. It is not for the faint of heart. As someone who practices mindfulness and being present centered, it has posed the interesting question for me: if I cannot remember from one moment to the next what just happened or what event just took place, does my experience of that moment really matter? Memory is a beautiful thing as it allows us to replay a joyful experience over and over in our minds and to share it with others long afterwards. The conclusion I’ve come to is, yes, every moment matters. My father can still experience the joy of the moment. Thirty minutes later that moment may be wiped from his memory banks but that doesn’t make it any less real and precious.

Recently we were out at the marina. I had maneuvered the significant logistical difficulties to take him out of his depressing skilled nursing care facility down to the ocean where I know he enjoys the boats on the water. This is a place that meant so much to him for the majority of his life and where he found great peace and a sense of adventure.

On our arrival, I already felt mentally and physically fatigued. As is now customary, getting my father out of the car is a complex affair. He dismissed the waiting wheelchair with a wave of his arm and motioned that he would try to walk with his walker, something that is extremely challenging for him now. His gait was incredibly slow as he bravely put one foot in front of the next and steadied himself. I watched as he looked out towards the ocean with an aliveness I rarely see, on these days that are mostly lived from his bed. I was by his side trying to facilitate his proud independence while at the same time staying close enough so if he should falter I could steady him or, God forbid, stop a fall to the ground altogether. The smile stretching across his face as he watched the boats and felt the ocean breeze warmed my heart.

A stranger nearby, a middle-aged man, was watching us and could hear my words of encouragement as I coaxed my father to walk a few more steps for a better view. The man approached us and wished us a good day, and he said to me, “I hope you know what you’re doing is really important. I have a feeling that probably nobody ever tells you that but I want to tell you that I know how hard this is. Can I give you a hug?” He was looking deeply into my eyes and I could see there was nothing calculated in his approach … his words were heartfelt.

Strangers, we stood out there on the dock and he gave me a bear hug. Feeling deeply connected for a brief moment in time, I hugged him back and felt the tears running down my face. I thanked him quickly and my father and I continued. I knew I wouldn’t see this person ever again most likely. It was a beautiful gift that reminded me how profoundly we are all connected—in our joy and pain—and that even when we may feel alone, the human experience is universal.

Can your Love Relationship be Saved?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Couples - trackDoes it feel like you and your partner are competitors instead of allies? Have the small kindnesses vanished from your daily interactions? Are you walking on egg shells for fear of saying something that will cause conflict, anger, or hurt? Do you avoid each other more than seek one another out?

When couples come for counseling because their relationship is in trouble, as a therapist my main goal is to watch for and understand the patterns that inevitably show up in a couple’s interactions, so together we can understand what is going wrong despite their best efforts. It is incredibly helpful to examine arguments because they are never about what they appear to be. That bears repeating: while couples get caught up in the details, the argument is almost never about what it appears to be. There is an important theme playing out as that conflict and BOTH partners are engaged in the dance that fuels it. Identifying the theme is the critical factor.

I believe we are always doing our best in the moment with the tools we have, but many of us didn’t witness healthy relationships in our parents’ interactions, and our awareness and skills need improvement. To be emotionally close to someone as we are in the early days or years of a relationship is a magical thing. To be in conflict with the person who we deeply love causes us immense anxiety, pain, and sadness—so why would we purposely inflict those feelings on ourselves if we knew how to avoid them.

Love relationships are amazing structures that can teach us about what we didn’t get growing up. We need to figure out what that is or we’re destined to seek it, unconsciously, in this relationship, and the next, and the next—usually in ways that leave us feeling alone, misunderstood, and end up sabotaging the partnership.

The First Step

Effective counseling requires that couples come out of their corners in the boxing ring and embrace a new position with regard to the relationship—a united front of honesty, curiosity, and collaboration. Yes, I know … much more difficult than it sounds. That’s why an objective and caring intermediary—pastor, therapist or counselor—can be vital. When couples are trying to fix their problems from a place of fear—which is the source of all conflict—solutions are extremely difficult to recognize. I support clients to identify that fear and investigate it with deep compassion.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” ~ Einstein

Divorce – A Child’s Perspective

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog


Divorce is an incredibly complex issue for children and teens to understand. A critical factor when considering how children and adolescents might be impacted by separation or divorce is their egocentricity. What is meant by egocentricity is that children and teens look to themselves, almost always, as the cause of problems that arise in the family and this can provoke great stress and anxiety for them, especially in the case of divorce.
No matter how much you as a parent might try to assure your children that they are not the cause of the break up, none the less they tend to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that they are in some way the cause. They may contemplate thoughts like, ‘If I had been a better kid or a smarter kid, this wouldn’t have happened.” I once had a young adult client whose parents had separated several years earlier, right after a baseball game in which he played poorly. A part of him still felt his inadequacy at the game had somehow tipped the marriage, which ended, over the edge. Added to children’s thoughts of blame is usually the enduring hope that the family will come back together again. This hope may span many years. Assurances by parents that kids are not to blame and the reasons for the break up must be consistent and repeated over time as must the fact that the family has changed permanently. Children’s self blame can manifest in behaviors such as acting out, tantrums, bed wetting, sleeping issues and depression. For adolescents, drinking and the use of drugs or other substances are symptomatic of painful feelings they cannot tolerate because they lack the needed coping skills.
Sadness and loss are normal reactions for all of those in the family affected by divorce. However, if your child or adolescent is exhibiting behaviors that concern you, consider whether the help of a therapist might be appropriate—both for them and for yourself. Whether you’re contemplating separation or divorce, in the midst of one, or dealing with the aftermath, I encourage you to reach out for support. Don’t struggle through this difficult time alone.