The Long Goodbye of Alzheimer’s

She’s no longer the grandmother you remember. Margaret Manteau–Rao on how to love and accept your loved one as she is now.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao
5 May 2017
Photo by Alexey Kuzma / Stocksy United.

Question: What does Buddhism offer me about relating to my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s and is no longer the person I once knew?

Answer: Buddhist practice gives you a place to acknowledge and hold your grief. The ambiguity of the slow, invisible loss associated with the changes in your grandmother begs to be made real. Unconscious grief will weigh you down otherwise and can become a significant source of chronic stress. This is where mindfulness practice comes in, allowing you to become aware of the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are bound to arise at random moments and in unexpected ways.

Dharma also invites you to bring your mindful attention to the clinging that is always part of grief. You may learn to tease the two apart by temporarily setting aside the object of your grief—your grandmother as you used to know her—and focusing instead on the ache that tugs at your heart.

Everyone I love is of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

If you spend enough time sitting with it, you will get to the root cause of your suffering, which comes from wanting what can no longer be had. To help you, you may want to contemplate the Buddha’s fourth remembrance: “Everyone I love is of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.”

Eventually, you may step into a new way of being that makes room for a different kind of love for your grandmother, unbound by identity, role, and history. This is the ultimate loving-kindness practice: opening your heart to loving whoever is with you, free from expectations. Learn to see each moment with her as a new moment and a new chance to love her as she is.

Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Marguerite Manteau-Rao

Marguerite Manteau–Rao is the author of Caring For a Loved One With Dementia.